Spotlight on Roadshows – Core skills with challenging young people

Having written on the subject of the high risk roadshow last month, this month CYCJ’s Stewart Simpson shines the spotlight on the ‘Core skills with challenging young people topic’, in order to share some experience of the roadshows CYCJ delivers across Scotland.

Well as promised, here it goes!

“Core skills” (and what they are) is a topic which I think we could debate until the cows come home. However, surely we can all agree that core skills for working with young people are things we have steadily developed as practitioners – given the three to four years of training (certainly in social work) that we have already done, PTRL requirements as part of SSSC registration, and on top of that the two years, ten years (or for the incredibly dedicated amongst us, 30 years) of practice experience? The answer to that question; most of us would confidently say “eh…….I think so”.

The core skills roadshow reminds us of some things we have already either experienced, been told of by savvy experienced colleagues, or worked out ourselves through trial, error and ‘oops! that didn’t work out very well did it?’ type learning. This roadshow, which can be delivered as either a half day or full day training, aims to offer hints,  tips and to share experiences of engaging with challenging young people. In addition it seeks to remind us of some of the theoretical perspectives around how we work with those who don’t engage, or with whom we struggle to help engage.

Recalling being a newly qualified social worker, some years ago, I remember a young person who, try as I might, would not engage, was risky in his behaviours and not surprisingly, reams of other professionals were breathing down my neck (or so it felt) saying “You need to do something with this kid”. I concluded that it must be me, or some else’s approach might be better/different- a change of worker was needed. To my surprise, the response to this suggestion in supervision was “aye right….get back out there and keep trying!” The steep learning curve here was that persistence pays off and eventually, the young person engaged. Don’t get me wrong, the road to what we would describe in social work as “meaningful engagement” took time, some painful meetings, a few aggressive outbursts and some verbal abuse along the way, but the relationship built up over time meant I was trusted enough to get alongside him in periods of crisis when others could not.

Upon reflecting on this experience after this young person moved on and successfully developed a relationship with his aftercare worker, I didn’t initially think that I played a huge part in the positive changes he made. However, talking to practitioners about what skills they use with challenging young people now, I have changed my mind. Actually, I used a range of what we could say are “core skills” in this case. For example, establishing trust meant not walking away despite the young person being very hostile and aggressive and giving him a message that I was in it for the “long haul”. There were some “quick wins” along the way too – being the key person that supported his transition from a placement that had broken down, to a new one, helped cement a degree of trust and belief that someone was available to him. We even discovered a common interest that we shared. This young man had started to learn to play the chanter and by sharing my experiences of learning to play the bagpipes, and spending time talking about playing different songs and what we found hard, it allowed the opportunity to share something other than the social worker/young person relationship and as a result, “level the playing field”.

So, I think it’s probably time to halt the chat on bagpipes and chanters before I stray off onto the subject of birrels and highland laddie, and return back to the subject of core skills for practice rather than piping!

Core skills essentially consolidates existing learning, and develops skills for practice that we may already use without realising or having time to reflect on what it is that we do with young people that works. The training also offers some new suggestions and tips for how to work with those young people that we would consider “hard to reach” or as we have all experienced, can’t reach as we shout through the letter box!

Hopefully, this insight into practice experience and what the core skills roadshow offers means I will be seeing some of you at a training event very soon!


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