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Marianne, Healthy Relationships Advisor for Centrepoint in London, talks about her role

Marianne is Centrepoint’s Healthy Relationships Advisor – the only one currently operating in London, working across our Lambeth, Hammersmith & Fulham, Barnet and Westminster services. She also provides training at Centrepoint’s head office on domestic abuse, as well as advice and consultancy to the managers and supported housing officers at other London services, so they can support young people in areas she’s unable to oversee in person.

Marianne: Healthy Relationships Advisor

Can you describe your role?

There are different aspects to my role: one is training staff to identify domestic abuse and know where to find support. Much of what I do is building the links between the supported housing services and domestic abuse or sexual health services that already exist in London.

Another aspect to my role is delivering one-to-one sessions with young people. I tend to work with one young person for about three months through weekly sessions. However, some young people just want to drop in, so I do some one-off sessions too. The sessions focus on building healthy relationships; whether that’s with their family, partner or friends,  or maybe they’re going through a break up or a big life change. For many young people the sessions will focus on identifying abuse and reducing risks in their relationships so that they feel safer.

The COVID-19 outbreak is having a big impact on service delivery across all sectors and domestic abuse services are very concerned that the risk to victims will increase during periods of social distancing. Perpetrators could use the outbreak to justify their controlling behaviours and those experiencing abuse could become even more isolated than before. It is therefore essential that the support I offer will still be available to young people over the phone, and in most cases, domestic abuse services will be operating their helplines and web chats throughout the outbreak.

Why is your role important for the organisation?

We know that one of the main causes of youth homelessness is relationship breakdown. Some young people may have had a family breakdown or there may have been domestic abuse at home or from a partner. They may have been kicked out because their family did not accept their sexuality or gender, or perhaps even they themselves were being abusive.

What I find interesting is that when young people have the space to reflect in our services, something they might have described as a ‘relationship breakdown’ when they first became homeless can actually turn out to have been domestic abuse. There are a lot more people affected by these issues than we realise. Therefore relationships are at the forefront of tackling youth homelessness, which is why a Healthy Relationships Advisor role is so vital to the organisation.

Furthermore, when a young person moves on from Centrepoint’s services, they can be extremely vulnerable to some of the same issues that affected them previously. At Centrepoint young people have the opportunity to find a job, complete their studies and build good relationships with their keyworkers, but when they leave, they need to know how to access services that will support them in maintaining their healthy relationships. So my role is twofold: firstly, supporting young people during their time at Centrepoint, and secondly raising awareness, so if anything should happen to them in the future they are aware of what’s available in the local borough.

What do you love most about your job?

It’s the relationships I build with the young people and the realisations that they have that are the most important parts for me. There might be someone who has been in multiple abusive relationships; to have them say, “I know I deserve more and I’m going to try and get it” is really powerful. My job is very much about validation and support.

What barriers do you come up against in your role?

Accessing support is very difficult when you’re in an abusive relationship as the perpetrator can take control of your phone, social media and email accounts. It can be scary talking about domestic abuse, but I find that young people tend to open up when they have built a trusting relationship with you; this is why I work closely with the supported housing officers in order to create a safe space and line of communication for those who are most at risk.

In terms of resources, I would love it if there were more workers doing my job, specifically more male workers, to better reach the young men. The lack of youth services particularly well-being services aimed at young men is a real problem.  The Healthy Relationships Programme is open to all genders, and a real success in the past year is that more young men are requesting the 1:1 support but I may not always be able to meet the demand, and there is a lack of external provision. This has really highlighted to me that relationships are not just a ‘woman’s issue’, and it is important that we open up these conversations with young men and make more services available to support them.

What are your top tips for young people in terms of managing and developing healthy relationships?

  • In general, one of my main pieces of advice would be to speak respectfully when you communicate with people both in person and over the phone, as you never know how much words can help or hurt.
  • During the COVID-19 outbreak, everyone is going to have to get more creative in maintaining their relationships and reaching out to those loved ones who need the most support. There are ways of connecting without seeing each other in person; write letters, share recipes, set your friends fitness challenges, take quizzes, start a virtual book club, draw each other’s portrait, play online games.
  • Social media is a great way to connect but it is all about choice! If you find social media helpful, take part in challenges, make funny videos and organise group video calls. But if social media adds to your anxiety, let people know you’re taking a time out and how you want to keep in contact.
  • Appreciate that your friends and family may be feeling stressed and upset right now. Try not to take it personally if someone is acting differently, and ask if there is anything you can do to help.
  • However, stress is not an excuse for any form of verbal or physical abuse, and in these cases, it is important to seek help. Before deciding to stay with a partner or family member during the outbreak, ask yourself whether you feel safe to be with them for long periods of time.
  • My main advice would be to have the courage to call a specialist service. People sometimes worry it’s not going to work or they won’t understand. However, I call these services even as a professional.  The advisors are incredible and they understand more than you can imagine.
  • You can contact the free National Domestic Abuse Helpline 24hrs a day on 0808 200 247 or online www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/Contact-us.

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