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Editor’s note: We originally made contact with Becky Calnan, a Caseworker for St Giles Trust, to create a Profile on a ‘day in her life’ but what became apparent in reading back over the interview, is that more appreciation is needed for the people working in not-for-profit organisations who spend their days helping young people and the complexities this involves. Because they, and the companies they work for, change lives, yet positions are often low paid, or deemed as ‘low ranking’ despite holding huge responsibility and there are no Oscars, or Brit awards to celebrate the work that they do.
So in the manner of helping more people to appreciate the Caseworker profession, this is what the job looks like for Becky Calnan, a Caseworker of Education, Employment and Training for St Giles Trust, a not-for-profit organisation that does work which aims to help break the cycle of prison, crime and disadvantage by supporting people in changing their lives.
I wake any time between 6 and 7am, depending on what the day has in store and where my first meeting is. Luckily I’m not really a routine kinda girl, which lends itself well to a job which is constantly shifting direction. I eat breakfast before I leave if I’m not cycling and go for a run or at the least do some yoga to get my bones moving! I then try to have a flick through twitter for any new opportunities, events, policies or articles which may be of interest to the young people I work with.
I’m generally on my bike or the bus shortly after 7. Always with my backpack – I’m an outreach worker which means pacing the streets a lot, pitching up in cafés and libraries, so it goes with me everywhere. Working with young people 100% brings the clichéd – “no two days are the same”. Whilst this means I am frequently excited or pumped up by what’s going on, it does demand an unrelenting flexibility, patience and to a large degree, an aptitude for ‘letting go’. For someone like myself who likes control (and to be in the driving seat), this is a daily contradiction but it’s what makes me buzz.
I am a qualified social worker; trained in theoretical, practical and legislative models. Having spent a number of years pre- and during Uni working in adult mental health and disability services, I honed in on housing and homelessness before finding myself drawn to what I call the ‘transitions’ bracket – young people aged between 16-25 and specifically those who have emotional or behavioural difficulties and who are often attracted to offending.
I dislike describing a ‘typical’ client as I don’t believe there is one, but the most common ‘barriers’ our clients face are housing instability, poor mental health and financial strain. These ‘risk’ factors are poison for any member of society and can change lives in an instant.
The young people I work with are all individuals, with their own life stories, families, friendship groups, fears and dreams – each human life, as yours and mine, is multi-faceted and though it is undoubtedly intellectually and emotionally demanding, I enjoy becoming a part of their journey. I work with young people on a 1:1 basis, supporting them to lead their own progress and development, for however long they need it. The goal is sustainment – when I put them into a new opportunity such as a new job or training course, I stay with them to ensure they stick at it and pick them up on the other side if necessary.
The biggest challenges I face are not those of rudeness, bad behaviour or harassment as many people expect when I say I work with young offenders and people who have been affected by gang life, it is those challenges presented by the “system”. It is a constant battle to work in partnership with so many agencies and different systems. This is because there are so many different languages spoken by health and social care professionals; because our statutory services are in many ways archaic and too bureaucratic; because charities and project work – as mine is – is always temporary and therefore “teething” and; because in human life – and especially in youth AND crime – there is no ‘pause’ button.
The other fascinating challenge, that any social work professional will tell you, is that when you are finally ‘getting somewhere’ with a young person, that is to say you’ve broken the professional vs. client barrier and have built trust and rapport, you’re often then gifted with their honesty. Unfortunately, this can mean that the kid you thought had one pending conviction and six months left in their supported housing contract, actually has £600 in rent arrears and a S21 (an eviction notice giving them 28 days to leave), got arrested again last night for something “you don’t want to know”, was sanctioned by Job Centre back in March but “just put the letters in my drawer and forgot” and “actually, Bec, can’t do the BTEC course at Newham college because I punched a kid there in 2012, so I think I’m banned.”
But the other, more important, positive side is every time a young person gets an interview; every time a young person finishes their licence and Probation tell me “they’re all yours”; every time it’s been one month, two months, six months and they haven’t reoffended. Every time a young person, post work experience or volunteering, says “that was nice, you know. I kinda liked it”; or when a young person says to me “do you know what Becky, I’m fine, it’s good. I’ll call YOU if I need you”….all these times; I am reminded why I do what I do.
I often wonder if I’m hypocritical, in that my job is to inspire and motivate young people to progress and to seek and hold on to aspirations for success and yet I have remained in what could be deemed a low-level job with few prospects. It is certainly unqualified and it is certainly frontline – but it is a line I like to be on; a line that moulds and pulses with the very feeling of life.
However, ‘success’ – as I tell my young people – is perceptive and individual. The ‘right thing’ is also, not only uniquely related to that individual, but their contextual setting and time period. We are ever influenced by external variables and ever informed by our internal developments and realisations. Whilst I cannot ever see myself working outside of the human/social/life-y sector, what I hope to achieve and sustain – and this I hope to instil in my young people – is a wholesome connection with my own desires, interests, values and to possess enough self-respect to make a change if I start to stray or lose sight of this compass. For me, I would be doing the young people I work with a disservice if I did not enjoy, benefit myself or believe in what I was doing. The day this belief goes to ash, is the day I move on.
But for now, I am blessed to be reminded so very often why it is that I do what I do. Every time a young person is made homeless because they’ve outstayed their welcome; every time a young person’s case is closed with social services purely because today is their 21st birthday; every statistical data set of stabbings and firearms given out at this month’s gang and violent crime analysis conference; and every time a young person doesn’t get short-listed because their disclosure box says ‘yes’; I am reminded. And I am fired with energy to continue on.
Note: All views expressed in this article are solely the interviewee’s and do not represent St. Giles Trust or any of the other people affiliated with it
Beth is a Writer and Digital Marketer who founded The Full Agenda as a place to talk about the things that kept her and her friends up at night. Currently working as a Marketing consultant to various SMEs she is a big fan of the startup market and loves technology, apps and anything social media related. When not obsessively checking Google Analytics, she can be found reading, writing or relaxing with a glass of Prosecco.
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