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Lorna's Story: I Knew I Wanted to Help People

Lorna is a supported housing officer in Keighley and has worked for Centrepoint for six-and-a-half years. In her own words, she talks about her job, the challenges of lockdown, homelessness prevention and young people’s mental health.

Lorna's Story: I Knew I Wanted to Help People

I did a law degree at university and I realised quite quickly that it wasn’t what I wanted. I’d sort of been railroaded into an area that wasn’t really for me. As teenagers, a lot of us feel like that. But I didn’t really speak up about it and then I ended up working at a solicitors firm in debt litigation!

I spoke to a careers advisor; I ended up in tears because I just didn’t know what to do, but I knew it wasn’t debt litigation. She did some algorithm tests with me and counselling came up as an option and it caught my eye. I started doing evening some courses and I did my level 2 and 3 in about 18 months.

From that, I knew I wanted to work with people and to help people. A job came up at Centrepoint and to be quite honest, I didn’t think I’d get it, but I thought I’d go for it anyway and I was successful. I was so happy – I felt like screaming!

In my previous job, I felt like I had lost my own voice so it was so nice to come into this role and support young people with finding theirs and letting them know that it’s okay – you can change your mind just like I did.

Settling in

It was dive right in really, but in a good way. I was introduced to everyone – a fantastic bunch  – they were really welcoming and from all sorts of backgrounds. I shadowed other staff members for a week and learnt from them and made sure I asked lots of questions.

The best thing about her job

Being able to support someone who has no idea what’s happening and everything is up in the air and being able to sit them down and let them know that it’s okay to feel how they’re feeling. It’s extremely rewarding to support a young person to take small steps and also to look back and see how far they’ve come from when they first arrived. It’s really helpful to remind them of all their achievements.

Challenges

Some of the young people come to you quite abrupt or aggressive or point blank ignore you. Trying to get someone like that to engage can be challenging, but it’s about finding the thing that will help them engage. Find out what their interests are and the way they feel comfortable communicating with you. Once they realise that you’re not there to tell them what to do, but to support them and help them move into independence, then they start engaging.

Every case is different and young people have been through all sorts of different experiences and trauma. It is very challenging, but when you do get through to someone, and they open up and tell you what they want so you can guide them along that path – that’s the biggest challenge, but can be the most rewarding thing.

Building trust

Sometimes it doesn’t happen and you just can’t get through and that is really unfortunate. You try everything in your arsenal, but you just can’t break through. Other times it can take weeks to months to get them to engage. Sometimes having informal chats and talking to them about their hobbies and interests can break down barriers. You might go walking with them rather than sitting in a more formal setting. Sometimes in those moments, they open up more because they’re relaxed.

Investment in prevention

It would be great to have more prevention services such as mediation services in school. Student welfare services are underfunded.

Parents don’t always know the right thing to do and need more support. It’s so difficult being a parent and trying to manage it all, they need more support. For example, things like CSE (child sexual exploitation), are a minefield and parents don’t have that training to spot it or deal with it whereas professionals do, so parent support services within schools would be a really good investment.

Often parents don’t know what support is available or don’t know to ask. It’s about publicising those services too. It’s also about dealing with the stigma around asking for help and parents not to feel like a failure because they need help. It’s not a failure to need help.

Mental health

We see it a lot really. Mental health is one of the main issues. The time it takes to get support is far too long. If you don’t tick the right box, you don’t get the help. You could be waiting for over 6 months for help, but if you’re suffering now, that’s no good. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not their fault. Services are overrun and they don’t have enough resources and support themselves. It can cause you (as a staff member) anxiety when you’re at home and you’re wondering whether you did enough for that young person. Luckily, there are numbers we give the young people if they’re in crisis and we tell them what they need to do and who they can call on, but it’s still worrying.

One case comes to mind. She had so many issues going on – mental health, abuse. Trying to get people to listen and realise that this person needed help immediately was tough. I spent days on the phone and we have 11 young people here who all need support and I had to spend days getting just one person support. Eventually I managed, but you really have to put your foot down and say you’re not going to put down the phone until you get somewhere. You feel bad because it’s not the other person on the phone’s fault.

Once the support is in place, it can be transformative for a young person. When everyone is communicating. That’s the best type of support – where there’s a network and a sense of working together.

The pandemic and mental health

You have seen mental health deteriorating even in those that haven’t suffered that much with mental ill health before. We all are really. It’s hard too because we can’t always be face to face with them and sometimes that’s what they need. It’s very difficult, the distance. It’s just not the same on the phone. We have to constantly weigh up risk. For instance we wouldn’t have thought twice before all this about taking a young person to the doctor or if they needed to go to A&E. We’d just jump in the car and go. We can’t do that now unless it’s a serious emergency and we have to go through all the protocol. It doesn’t feel natural which is sad. We just have to think outside the box so to speak.