Misam, one of Chance UK’s youth workers, talks about her experience as a mentor and the joys of watching children grow in confidence:
In 2019, I started my position as a Teaching Assistant in a primary school. It was the start of a new beginning, not only was it a new year and new job but a new understanding of what mental health looked like in relation to children. The primary school, based in North London, taught me a lot— least of all because it required patience and creativity, most of all, because the pandemic provided a unique insight into how children were affected, overlooked and often, underestimated. It was during my year at this school that I not only learnt a great deal about children, but about myself too. In part, it allowed me to reconnect to my own inner child, whilst also helping me better recognise the emotional intelligence exhibited in children, and how that was either expanded and nurtured or trampled by adults around them. I knew that whatever road I turned into next in my career path, children would be at its core— whether I worked for or with children was yet to be seen.
It was at Chance UK that I learned more, not only about the emotional factors to consider when working with children, but also the social, the familial, the cultural and so on. Progressing from a TA to a Youth Worker, came with more responsibility, sure, but it also came with greater space for input and the ability to hone in on supporting children, and be led by the child. This is especially championed by our child focused approach. Each Youth Worker has a caseload of up to ten children at any one time, each child is unique not only in situation, but in their needs i.e. emotional, behavioural or SEND. Likewise, the programmes they’re part of focuses on different goals, for example, emotional regulation, being able to recognise and maintain healthy relationships, etc.
My caseload currently varies, with the youngest child being seven, and the eldest, eleven. Each week is different, you can never predict what will happen week from week, nor day to day. Whilst some children have complex needs, others might struggle with issues around self-esteem and emotional regulation. Personally, I find the pandemic’s impact quite obvious, for example, some children are more fearful of travelling or being in more populated areas; it’s our job of course to not only explore this with them but help them reframe the narrative, affording them greater agency.
Although some children find the idea of a mentor exciting, others are quite apprehensive even if they try to hide it, you can always suss it out through their behaviour and mannerisms. However, the consistency of seeing a child week after week allows them to recognise you as a safe and reliable adult in their life, it is here where the fun begins— you witness them not only grow, becoming more confident and open, but also blossom through play and creativity based activities. The children not only learn to lead, but to trust their own abilities, and in time, they are able to not only vocalise their concerns and their worries, but also, their own unique solutions.
Children certainly are more perceptive than many adults realise, they often shoulder worries that are beyond their years. For example, the cost of living crisis is not something new to these children, it simply is another added layer of anxiety and worry they are very familiar with.
The rise in mental health concerns post-pandemic underlines the importance of reframing the value of not only children but children services and centres within our communities. Early intervention and support is not only crucial but its benefits reap infinite possibilities. After all, a society is only ever as healthy as its children.