Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It had always been normal for many of our teenage boys to carry knives.

For much of my life I have worked as my mission in life with Young People on the edge 
or over the edge in terms of their offending behaviour. 
Beautiful humans.
Every thought I have of them is filled with love for them.
Both those I work with NOW
and many many from the past.

Working with gangs has been a big stretch and also a massive learning.
I strive continually to understand violence and aggression to help me to be better able to be in a helping relationship with these BHP’s.

A Youth Club as often been the base of operations. 
Where contact is first made.
Where relationships commence and then ……..
Branches off that base have been events outside the club life. 

Such as residential experiences in the wilds of the country - or evening or day trips in the mini-bus AGAIN to build relationships as well as extend their life experiences.
Group work conducted strategically has been a major part of developmental work for me and the teams I have led.

I want to take you into an experience 
that still lives in my soul - join me ………...

It had always been normal for many of our teenage boys to carry knives. 
One club evening we noticed other ‘tools‘ beginning to be smuggled into the club. 
Sticks, some with nails protruding, iron bars and hammers. 
At the same time sticks, stones and bottles were being hidden outside the building ready for the end of the club evening. 
The gang was preparing for battle.

One older age gang, late teens, I will call them A, maturing, active in deeper crime but more thoughtful & strategic with it.
Much work had been done with them over the years: 
their own Sunday club with their own bank account, 
holidays, weekends, + many court appearances standing with them & their families. 
They have been very much part of the club for years - older now involved in different (developed) kinds of behaviour including crime.
The younger gang B, were a up and coming powerhouse - aged around 15 - 18, and were now more disruptive, hyperactive,  & well prepared to do battle with the A. 
It was becoming a regular occurrence for them to attack and bait each other concluding in a street battle at club closing time with sticks, bricks and bottles being thrown.

It became so bad that we shut club completely for ten days to cool off. Never ever done before.

One evening, as the workers met to discuss the strategy for the future, 
then meeting was ‘steamed’ by 40 or so teens -
they came in and all of a sudden it changed the agenda!
It became a gang meeting with two older boys taking the chair between them. 

I facilitated the meeting but in no way was I in control. 
First of all they berated me and the other workers for running a lousy club – “you can’t handle it” – and then they turned on the other gang and ran their own kangaroo court.

After the slagging off came the verdict. 
“Stay away,” said the (A) older gang leader, 
“Stay away for a year from now. 
You’re barred and if you roll up you’re nicked!” 

That was authority speaking, and the workers’ meeting that eventually took place that evening affirmed that decision. 
The younger gang (B) were barred from the club for a year, 
the first time that a long-term suspension had been imposed. 
It wasn’t left like that, but we decided to work with the gang outside the club. 
Not reject them but, with love and commitment, intensify our youth work with them.

Two of our team members were chosen to head up the multiple group work projects with me in support. 
One of our volunteer youth workers was in his late twenties, a working-class Londoner who came to us from a drug rehabilitation centre and a natural for making warm contact with the kids. 
Another worker, a total contrast from a middle-class background and was studying to be a Doctor. Both had a keen sense of humour, resilience under pressure and lots of enthusiasm. 

So we commenced a Group work programme for this gang and several others including girl gangs with female group workers.
It was a process of boundary management.
Creating a context of security for the teens but aimed totally at their growth & development.
Each had a maximum of eight in their group and two volunteer group workers.
The same workers only. 
The same youth members only.
They met only in the mini-bus and/or the group room separate from the Youth Club.

Every objectives was designed to give each group a place and a sense of security including conditions to form closer relationships between peers & Youth Workers. 
A sense of belonging was developed in each group because there was a climate of trust and participation.

The story rolls on and has much more details in my books.
But the group work method was a major break through. 
Negative turned into positives. 
I became a group worker.
I believe  in groups.
I belong to a group.
I yearn to belong.
I believe that for you too - and all humankind …………..