How family work prevents homelessness | Depaulcharity

How family work prevents homelessness | Depaulcharity

Depaul helps people who are homeless, vulnerable and disadvantaged.

How family work prevents homelessness

By Joe Clay - 2 April 2019


Young people who run away and go missing are at increased risk of harm and homelessness. Joe Clay works for Depaul UK project Safe@Last, which provides one-to-one and family work sessions to keep young people safe and resolve the root issues.

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I started at Safe@Last as a volunteer – I was 16 and one of the youngest helpline volunteers in the country at the time, then after university I got a job with the project.

At Safe@Last we work with young people who have run away or gone missing, but also with their families. When I started, a lot of referrals came from the police, so we’d often go into a situation and find a family in crisis.

When a young person’s going missing it can cause a lot of issues within the family. There’s a lot of worry, a lot of frustration, a lot of anger - all sorts of different emotions flying about. And that’s just around that missing episode.

But there’s also a lot of other stuff that’s gone on to lead to that missing episode, so you’ve got a lot to unpick and a lot to get your head around when you first go in and see the situation.

The immediate crisis would be around going missing and running away, but that’s always a symptom of a bigger issue.

We need to get buy in from both sides – from the parents or carers and from the young person. There can be a bit of reluctance at first – parents feel like you’re going into their home and telling them how to parent.

It comes down to building relationships – we work with parents, listen to them and let them blow off some steam to us if they need. When they understand that you’re there to help and that you aren’t trying to get them into trouble, that’s when you build that trust and can move forward and resolve issues.

The way I try to work with families is to break things down into manageable pieces, like a jigsaw puzzle. You work on the individual pieces and eventually you build up a bigger picture and fully understand the problems and the solutions. Then families aren’t having to battle on every front, all the time. That can be overwhelming.

It’s also about working on communication. If every time you try to address an issue you just end up screaming and shouting, the response you’re going to get back is screaming and shouting.

It doesn’t help anybody and then you get a flare up and then you might get a missing episode from that. So it is just about taking some time, reflecting and then thinking: ‘If I say it like this, how will that be received?’

You can’t always get that right, but I think when they start to understand that trust starts to build up, and communication and trust go hand in hand. If they go missing and don’t let their parents know at all, then the parents are worried sick. There’s a knock-on effect and it causes more stress, so it’s like a vicious cycle almost.

Sometimes in this line of work you have to celebrate the smallest victories. It might look bad on paper if someone is going missing five times a week, but if you’ve helped to bring that down from seven times a week, you’re still reducing that risk.

And if they’re coming in late or they’re missing, but they text Mum and Dad to let them know they’re alright that’s a result. It doesn’t always look massive on paper, but breaking the cycle and little bits of forward movement are a positive thing.

Sometimes someone is never going to stop running away and going missing altogether but you can make it safer. Sometimes you can help families to be more resilient. Maybe they weren’t reporting the young person missing but now they do start to and then they’ll sit and talk to them on their return rather than screaming and shouting.

And they’ll look at the issue that’s led to it rather than reacting to what’s gone on, it becomes a bit more proactive rather than reactive all the time.

There was one young man I worked with who was running away quite a lot, and his behaviour in school was quite bad.

When I started working with him, I tried to broach school and see what we could do about it. For me, it seemed like the missing was all around not wanting to go to school.

He would come home when he’d not been at school, Mum would get a text saying he hadn’t been at school and react, he would react to that and then he’d go missing overnight. So we needed to crack that cycle.

I worked really closely with school and got him into some external provision – something that was less academic and more hands-on. He really enjoyed that, and started going there more, and then eventually we even got him back in school to do Maths and English.

You could see a direct correlation between school attendance going up and missing going down.

We worked with his mum too, to help her challenge some of the behaviours in more constructive ways. That helped the situation at home, rather than battling against each other, they’d go shopping or for coffee and spend quality time together. After six months you could see a huge change, and that was really rewarding.

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