Case study

Youth work coordinator — Sophie

As a youth worker at a young offenders' institution, Sophie works hard to build positive relationships with the young people based on trust. Find out more about how her degree and work experience helped her get a job

What degree did you study?

I originally studied for a BSc Criminology with Social Anthropology. A few years' later, I went on to study for a PGDip in Youth Work and Community Learning and Development at YMCA George Williams College and graduated from Coventry University in 2019.

How did you get your job?

I have worked in HMYOI Feltham for seven years in various roles. In 2017, Kinetic Youth started working there and the job for youth work coordinator became available. Through previous work and voluntary experience based in youth work settings, I knew this is what I wanted to do within the prison, so I applied for the position and was successful.

What's a typical working day like?

I get to work for 7.30am to pick up and deliver a hot breakfast for breakfast clubs, which we run for 'gold' behaviour-level young people as an incentive for positive behaviour. I then go over to the education section ready for three groups of up to eight young people who get a one hour session of informal education with us. We cover a variety of topics, such as understanding consent or exploring equality and diversity.

After lunch I'm on the Enhanced Support Unit supporting young people with more complex behavioural and emotional needs, who are often very violent. We run informal enrichment sessions such as music, cooking or team-building activities.

At 6pm I go onto one of the residential units and join in association (free time) with the young people, running table tennis competitions, playing table football, chatting, etc.

On the weekend, education doesn't run, so instead I do targeted one-to-one support work with specific young people, or deliver peer support training so young people can get a qualification to support their peers.

What do you enjoy most about being a youth worker?

I really enjoy the variety we have in this job. We are always busy and I enjoy getting to know all the individual young people.

What are the challenges?

 The main challenge we face is dealing with young people who are used to expressing themselves through aggression and violence. We also work with young people who have been disengaged with services for a long time and do not build trusting relationships easily, so it takes a lot of effort, time and consistency to build relationships and encourage young people to engage positively with the regime and education.

How relevant is your degree?

My PGDip has been very relevant as it has developed my understanding of youth work methodologies and practice. Working in an environment where a lot of these practices are extremely difficult to do, it has enabled me to adapt my practice appropriately and be able to justify how we can make youth work operate successfully in a prison.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I have already been able to initiate and drive a few new projects. Long term I would like to expand what we are able to do in the prison and help develop a 'through the gate' service so we can continue supporting young people after they leave custody.

What is your top tip for doing a Masters?

Make sure that it's going to be relevant for whatever job you are going into. Masters degrees are challenging and you gain a much deeper and thorough understanding of your subject area, so checking whether this is something your future career plans require is the first step.

What's your advice for others wanting become a youth worker?

  • Experience, experience, experience. Get out there and volunteer, and do whatever you can to get as much experience as possible with young people.
  • You also need a robust understanding of how young people end up in prison and what the risk and protective factors are, and be able to express why you want to work with these young people specifically.
  • We really look for people who are well rounded individuals, who have got a diverse knowledge base and a range of experience working with young people.

Find out more

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