May 6 is Thank A Youth Worker Day, an opportunity to celebrate and raise awareness of the achievements and fantastic work of youth workers.
We spoke with two youth workers within MCM – Slavica Lasic, Youth Coach in the Detour program, and Christian D’Elia, Youth Focused Housing Placement Worker in Creating Connections – about their roles and the opportunities youth work has to create positive impacts in the lives of children and young people.
Slavica: From a young age I was curious and passionate about social justice and supporting people who experience disadvantages. There are many factors such as housing, poverty, family violence, and mental health that can lead to disadvantage and pose barriers in people’s lives. I wanted to make a difference and do my part in the community to make sure that these barriers are addressed. I enjoy the engagement and trust you build with young people and supporting them to achieve their dreams. Knowing that you can and have made even a small difference in their lives is rewarding.
Chris: A desire to empower young people – especially when it comes to navigating complex systems and structures. There are so many barriers and complexities for young people – whether that be negotiating with a real estate agency, dealing with fines or trying to earn a living wage – and being a youth worker allows you to empower young people in dealing with these systems.
Chris: When I tell people what I do they often assume I basically find houses for young people sleeping rough. Creating Connections does much more than this though. We look at homelessness not in isolation – i.e. give a person a home and all their problems will be solved – rather we see it as systematic issue and look to work with a young person holistically.
This means our work focuses on many facets of a young person’s life – not just finding a home. For example, one day I might be helping a young person address legal issues and the next day I could be helping a young person enrol in education. Although I work in housing, my role tends to involve myriad other areas.
Slavica: There is more opportunity to create change when you can provide services to young people at an early stage of homelessness. And working to divert young people from homelessness services that lack resources and sustainable housing means that you can explore other options in their lives such as family and community supports. Young people need more than a roof over their heads to thrive, therefore if you can tap into those additional supports that will sustain them beyond the capacity of services then they are more likely to succeed.
Slavica: That young people all have strengths and bring with them multiple stories which are unique and sometimes difficult. However, these stories do not need to define them entirely and we all have a part to play to see the best in them so that they have the confidence to create new stories.
In my role I have the privilege of working with so many different young people who have hope and just need that additional support they may not be getting from elsewhere towards a path that will lead them to be the best that they can be. Most of the challenges with being a youth worker do not come from the young people themselves but from the structural barriers that young people face with housing, employment and discrimination which can prevent them from moving forward. My role is to advocate across a number of these areas for young people to have the resources they need to prevent homelessness.
Chris: People tend to assume we do things for young people. We don’t. We empower young people to do things for themselves. All the great outcomes that have come from my work have mostly been due to the effort of the young people themselves.
We may provide the tools, but the young people do the actual building.