What do young people need when seeking advice?
While they may face similar issues to any other age group, many young people have needs which mean that they will greatly benefit if advice is tailored to their requirements. From our experience at Ask Us, there are several areas where this applies. We have seen that, when advice is not tailored to young people’s needs, they may disengage or feel disempowered or shut out from the process. Conversely, the young people who had good experiences of advice felt better able to seek advice in future and to help themselves when problems arose
What are the barriers for young people seeking advice?
Our experience and research showed that there are several key barriers that young people face in seeking advice:
Experience & Trust
- Having negative experiences of advice had a huge impact on young people making them reluctant to seek help in the future
- Being able to trust an adviser or support worker was key. If the advice worker doesn’t build trust then it is harder for them to work together. This is because they may have been let down many times by people who were in a caring role.
- Young people often turn to those they trust for advice. If they don’t have family, they often turn to friends who may not offer good advice.
- Knowing where to turn and how to ask for help
- Knowing what their rights and responsibilities are
- Understanding how systems and organisations work and what support might be available
Material and physical barriers
- Travel and geography
- Timing and accessibility- being able to get to services and use them
- Not having a printer/laptop with adobe- digital exclusion
Wellbeing, accessibility and skills
- There are a range of accessibility needs that are important to consider in order for a vulnerable young person to feel safe and to be able to participate and engage with your services. Whilst you may not be able to meet these needs always - it is helpful to know what they are as small changes in expectation and tone can make a big difference.
- Young people we supported faced a wide range of mental health challenges. Some related to their current situation and some were wider and more complex.
- Young people may not always behave in the ways we expect from a ‘good’ client, for example, missing appointments, being late, not responding to emails or calls.. This could be for a number of reasons and it’s important to be able to help them to learn how they can meet the norms you expect rather than exclude them. The place to start is to try to assume that they are doing the best they can given their circumstances.
Why is it important for the advice sector to adapt to Young person's needs?
When working with clients, we often expect a range of behaviours, practices and responses from them. Returning calls or emails, turning up on time, and being able to explain the issue are competencies that we often require in order to work well with clients. However, for young people for a range of reasons out of their control, these competencies may not come naturally. They may never have used a service like ours before, they may be experiencing the effects of trauma and they may have other pressures and priorities that we don’t understand.
Advice workers are uniquely placed to help young people to develop these skills; however, we ourselves need to learn how to meet young people where they are in order to do so.
Treating vulnerable young people as though they are doing the best they can and offering patience and kindness can bring good results.
The most important message to share with advice workers working with young people is that it’s important to meet young people at their own level. Advice should not be one-size-fits all but sensitive to the different needs that young people may have.
Drawing on the projects’ experience, we want to share some of the main ways in which advice can be tailored for young people.
Meeting Young Peoples’ Needs in advice- key principles and approaches
In recent years increasing research into how developing brains are affected by adverse childhood experiences and trauma. We found that using key principles from recognised approaches such as Psychologically Informed Environments and Trauma informed/aware working , helped us to engage with young people on their own terms .
There are plenty of resources for finding out more about using a Psychologically Informed approach to your service available online and a toolkit is available here Informing Futures - Psychologically Informed Environments
“PIE is not about a whole new way of working but provides a framework, language and approaches to communicate…and enhance good practice”
(Creating a Psychologically Informed Environment, No one Left Out: Solutions Ltd for Westminster City Council, 2015)
Trauma informed and trauma aware approaches
We know that a significant percentage of young people who approach services in hardship or crisis have experienced a combination of disruption in early attachments and one or many traumatic events.
Being ‘trauma aware’ that is, having a recognition of how trauma can impact individuals and principles to avoid re-traumatising, has an important impact on outcomes for vulnerable young people and this includes them being able to access advice.
Is an understanding of trauma helpful for giving advice to young people?
The word trauma is used to describe negative events that are emotionally painful and that overwhelm a person’s ability to cope. It is defined by the experience of the individual and not the event itself.
This can mean that a person finds it harder to engage with support than other people.
Trauma can also manifest itself as a fight, flight, freeze or fawn response.
A trauma response can shape how the young person interacts with other people. These internal mechanisms can manifest in behaviour that we(or they) might not understand and/or which make a young person seem difficult to work with. Instead of seeing this behaviour as the person's best effort at communication - it can be easy for us to just see it as disruptive or rude.
Working in a way that is trauma aware, means being aware of how trauma can affect someone and being conscious of how we engage with them
Fight, flight, freeze and fawn response
- Fight - Aggressively confronting the “threat”
- Flight - Running or hiding from the “threat
- Freeze / Numb - unable to move or act against the “threat”
- Fawn - Complies with threat to avoid conflict or confrontation
Trauma disrupts the ability to connect to safety and leaves us more prone to a being constantly on alert for threat and seeing danger everywhere.
Trauma Aware work with Young People
Being aware of the psychology of young people can also help to give advice well. A common theme that was discussed in Ask Us was the ways in which young people’s psychological development impacted how they understood and addressed issues that they faced.
Understanding this helps to place the needs of the young person at the heart of any advice and avoid seeing certain behaviours as irresponsible or careless. Instead it shows the importance of working with their strengths and needs.
How to support someone who has experienced trauma
Whilst as a busy advice worker you may not have time to do extra for a young person who approaches you - a few ideas about the way you approach your work with them can make a big difference.
- Predictability - Everyone loves surprises......not! Trauma survivors often prefer predictability because that feels safer
- Space - Allow time for the survivor to calm down and take perspective. Trauma survivors often have difficulty regulating emotions and take longer to calm down.
- Perspective - Be aware when the ‘past is intruding into present.’ Don’t take responsibility for what is not yours... gently.
- Choice - It can be a big trigger when a survivor is denied choice and control. Confer, collaborate, and cooperate. Empower them- inform them what’s happening.
- Reciprocity - Give what you also need to receive: listening, empathy, and empowerment.
- Support - Be kind, patient, but empathetically set limits - you have needs too
- Language - Rid ‘over-reacting’, ‘over-sensitive’, or ‘over’-anything from your vocabulary
A full strategic shift towards trauma informed care is a great goal but we can all take steps towards a trauma informed approach by “ treating everyone with kindness and respect, and listening with curiosity and compassion.” (Levenson 2017)
Staff and volunteers also need to look after their own wellbeing.
Young people who have experienced attachment issues and trauma often struggle to regulate their emotions. When we struggle to self-regulate, we can only do so by connecting with a safe person who is able to regulate themselves. If staff and volunteers are suffering from stress which can escalate to what is called toxic stress, they are unlikely to be able to engage calmly with a young person.
In order to make a difference to the most vulnerable, we need to find ways to support our staff and volunteers to look after themselves and each other.
- Ensure they are well-trained in how to support young people (see training resources)
- Ensure they are confident dealing with situations where clients may not present like others (talking about suicide, on their phones…)
- Staff supported to have manageable caseloads, to have support for their wellbeing (trauma aware and possibly via Reflective Practice) Link here
- Diverse staff especially with lived experience of different communities and issues are more likely to engage well with diverse communities of young people.