Thursday, 29 October 2009

Junior Citizens

Notice seen outside a teashop - 'Welcome to all our Senior and Junior Citizens'.

My teenage daughters were struck by the words on this sign; 'Junior Citizens' sounds so much more respectful than the usual 'Young People', especially when coupled with 'Senior Citizen'. My daughters think 'Young People' is  patronising and has connotations of anti-social behaviour. It was never meant that way, the term 'Young People' came into being to recognise that teenagers are different to children. However my daughter's day to day experience is that young people are generally not trusted - imagine the outcry if newsagents put up signs saying 'only two pensioners at a time'.

The fact is that a minority of the whole population are badly behaved - adults, women, men young adults, older people as well as teenagers, but the overwhelming majority of all ages are decent citizens. Actually it is the teenagers who are giving most back to civil society - over half of all teenagers do some sort of voluntary work every month, a far higher percentage than any other age group.

'Citizen' means 'a native or naturalized member of a state or nation who owes allegiance to its government and is entitled to its protection'. The definition says nothing about age. In fact anyone under the age of majority (18 in the UK) deserves greater protection because they do not have the resources and rights (as well as the responsbilities) that adults do. Our children, teenagers and young people are just as much members of the UK as adults, we could remind ourselves of that by calling them 'Junior Citizen's'.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Pleased to see you again

The other morning I passed a young woman as I was rushing into the Metro Station, she said 'I haven't seen you in a long time!' I stopped and must have looked confused because she added 'You don't recognise me do you?' Actually I did but could not place her and said so. She was Laura and I last saw her over 10 years ago when she was 18.

At that time I was working for Social Services, Laura she was one of the young people in our care and my job was to chair the regular reviews Social Services are required to have of children they take care of. Laura's father had disappeared long before, then her mother died and Laura had gone to live with an uncle supported by Social Services. Laura was 14 when I first met her and testing her uncle severely. Within a year he had lost all control of her, she had lost all respect for him and was doing exactly as she pleased. All the professionals who knew her were very worried by the risks she was taking with drugs and the older men she was spending most of her time with. Things came to a crisis landing Laura in a Secure Unit for three months for her own protection. Laura hated us all for 'locking her up' but surprisingly it was the best thing that happened to her because she used the time to catch up on school work and to decide she wanted a fresh start.

I liked Laura, she was a bright girl who had been dealt a very unlucky hand. We found her a room in the house of a supportive family on the other side of the Borough and helped her get a place in college. Things settled down pretty well for her until she fell pregnant. A great many 'professionals' expressed deep concern that Laura would be a poor mother, however she had not been a mother before so we gave her the chance to prove everyone wrong. We helped Laura find a flat for herself and the baby, fitted it out for her and gave her as much encouragement and professional advice as possible. Laura proved to be a devoted and able mother but the cost was loneliness - she had no family to talk too and after the initial attraction wore off her friends left her alone too.

Laura's flat was close to my office and she often came in on the pretext of asking for money. I would see her each time and have a chat, which I suspect was the real reason for her calling in. Then I got another job in a new place and lost contact with Laura. So it was great to see her at the Metro Station, her little boy is 10 now and doing well. As a teenager Laura had been a handful and caused a lot of headaches; had WEYES been nearby it would have been the ideal place for her. Nevertheless I did what I could and it felt really good was to be introduced by her to her friend as 'This is Jeremy, he's a good bloke'.

Thank you Laura, you make it all worthwhile for all of us working with young people.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Music for WEYES

To my knowldege Children North East has never had a fund raising concert before last Saturday. The 50 member strong South Tyneside Orchestra gave a terrific concert  in Trinity Church Centre, Gosforth in aid of Children North East. They played a very varied programme of music from Handel and Rossini to Abba via James Bond and the Pink Panther!  The orchestra grew from the South Tyneside School Music Service and is made up of young people and music teachers. Several young people played and sang solos including a virtuoso xylophone performance. Both the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Newcastle and the Deputy Mayor and Mayoress of South Tyneside came along.

The concert was the idea of Ernest Young, conductor of the South Tyneside Orchestra so that talented young people could give back a little to young people who are less fortunate. Young people who use the WEYES drop-in advice centre face all the same dilemmas and the same prejudices that so many adults have about young people as  their contemporaries, but have no one to turn to for help, that is what WEYES is for.

It is fitting that the money raised by the young musicians will directly benefit other young people in the region and I am very grateful to them for it and for a great evening of wonderful music.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

15 minutes of fame?

One of the young women who uses the WEYES project was interviewed this week by local radio. They wanted to talk to a young person about bullying -  what she knew about it, what she thought about it, what she thought should be done about it. She was happy to be interviewed provided a staff member from the WEYES project sat in on the recording which took place at the WEYES project this week. The young woman was very articulate and the radio people were pleased with the interview which will be broadcast next week.

A couple of weeks ago Children North East was approached by a TV researcher seeking 'heartwarming stories' of ordinary people who are making a success of their lives despite the recession. He hoped we could put him in touch with suitable people. We decided to be helpful and a meeting took place with the researcher, director and assistant director but it became apparent that the people appearing would have no control over what was broadcast; and we were worried about the impact on the people concerned of appearing on TV. We did agree to ask a one person if they would like to take part but they declined.

Neither of these was about promoting Children North East or WEYES, in both cases the 'media' wanted to learn from ordinary people. An admirable enough purpose but what the media don't do is explain what the consequences might be: how you might end up presented in a way you would not be happy with; how being recognised in the street might cause you problems. Many of the people who use our services are vulnerable in some way (that is what the services are for) and Children North East feels a responsibility to protect our service users from exploitation. Of course it is their decision whether to speak to radio, TV or newspaper reporters but they should only go into it knowing what the consequences could be for themselves.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Spittal House FC

This is Spittal House FC in their new kit complete with Children North East logo. One of the things that happens in a project like WEYES is that people get together and other unintended things begin to happen. Most of the lads in Spittal House FC met through the WEYES project and found they not only enjoyed a kick about but also spending time with other blokes. Most of them have partners and some have children, they tell you 'it's not just the game, it's also the crack, having a laugh and a moan away from the women and kids.' There's a serious side too, talking about what it's like to be a Dad. What started as a kick around became a regular fixture and when they started competing in the Sunday League it was time to get some proper kit but that cost more than they could afford. The staff at WEYES were able to help them find trusts that might give them a grant and mentor them through the process of making an application. The lads were so pleased when the Youth Opportunities Fund gave them what they needed they decided to put our logo on the shirts as a thank you.

Incidentally one of other things Children North East does is promote the importance of men as much as women in children's lives, these young men have found a way to do that for themselves through Spittal House FC.