‘Start with the person, not with the law’

There are many barriers to seeking advice for young people. However we have learned that there are certain things that enable them to do so. 

We have already discussed the barriers that young people face but here we show some of the ways that young people found helpful or enable them to seek advice. 

Here we share some of the examples of ‘what works’ from our experience with young people. 

How do young people seek advice? 

Friends and family: Young people will often turn to people they know and trust when they are in crisis or need advice. Often this will be friends and family. 

Having a high profile within the communities you hope to support will make it more likely that your name will be known and friends and family will recommend you to others. 

Place based: Many young people are likely to look for support in places they know or already visit. In Bristol, for example,  young people were less likely to come into the centre of the city if they lived on the outskirts and transport was time consuming and expensive. Young people are more likely to look for support in places that they already go i.e. youth centres in their local communities. 

Online: young people are likely to look online but may not search for legal terms or jargon. Having plain english content on your website will help to signal which issues you can help with and making it clear through text and images that you support young people is likely to help a young person get in touch. 

Building trust and good quality support: young people in crisis are likely to have had poor experiences with professionals. It is especially important to ensure that they are listened to, get good quality advice that they can use, that they feel the service is for them, and they are comfortable and feel safe using it.  

Good Communication 

Communicating well with a young person can make the difference in how they are able to engage with your advice. 

There is often an assumption that young people are more likely to prefer digital technology as a means of communicating, especially messaging services like WhatsApp. While many clients do find these useful, the key message was that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Young people have different needs and especially for young people in crisis, digital exclusion is often an issue, as they are likely to not have credit, or a phone or laptop, making accessing online services impossible. 

So while technology can be part of the solution when working with young people, the important principles are:

  • Asking the young person how they like to communicate
  • Letting them know how you will communicate. when you will be in contact and how they’ll expect to hear from you

Tips and tricks to help communicate well. 

Levels of listening:

  • This is where we start with engaging the young person, making verbal nods like ‘uh hum’ to keep the conversation going. It is a positive first step but sometimes as listeners we can disengage. 
  • Is called ‘autobiographical listening’ and where all we are doing is waiting for our chance to speak,planning what we will say next or wanting to steer the conversation to our own agenda rather than really listening to what the young person is saying. 
  • This is the first positive level as it involves clarifying and summarising back details to check that you have heard and understood correctly. This demonstrates to the young person that you have listened and heard them, and can help to build rapport.
  • Is reflective listening where feelings are reflected back to the speaker e.g. ‘’you sound really worried about that’’ This demonstrates that you are listening not just to the words that are being said, but the tone in which the words are being spoken. This allows you to build rapport and also to get even more information on the young person's perspective and you are listening with empathy.
  • Active listening good practice: 

  • Pay full attention to the speaker. Don’t try to multitask, make eye contact but be aware that too much eye contact can be intimidating. 
  • Show that you’re interested in what they have to say- balanced use of verbal and non-verbal responses such as nods,
  • Check understanding and reflect on what they’ve said.  You can paraphrase what they’ve said or also mention if it seems like the person is experiencing emotion  “From what you said, you’re facing eviction in the next month and this is causing you a lot of anxiety. Is that right?
  • Avoid interrupting and try not to assume or judge them or assume too much about the person and their situation - wait until they’ve finished speaking and check your understanding. Try to avoid disapproval or anger with the young person as this will prevent them from feeling able to speak openly.
  • Active listening techniques are important whether speaking face to face, on the phone or virtually. 

Open vs closed questions: 

  • In case work, you might need to find out specific details and then closed questions can be useful. However, remember that open questions often help the speaker to feel at ease and to share more about their situation.  e.g. “you need help with your debts, is that right?”  vs “you mentioned that you were looking for help with your debts, could you tell me more about that?
  • Speak slowly and clearly (without being patronising!)
  • Leave space in between words, sentences and questions/answers. It can take time to process what has been said so don’t try to fill silence but allow the client to process 
  • Plan ahead- think about what you want to say before you say it
  • Reduce ‘filler’
  • Avoid idioms, slang and jargon

Having good telephone conversations

Understanding over the phone can be harder as there are fewer non-verbal cues. 

Take time to plan what you need to say in advance. 

Think about what words you will use , avoid jargon, remember to speak slowly

Use short sentences and frequent turn taking to help the other person stay engaged. 

Ask questions clearly i.e. ‘can you come on friday?’ not ‘what’s your availability like on friday?

Don’t be vague or include too much information.

If you are going to be quiet for a while, maybe because you’re taking notes, it’s okay to let the young person know! Communication and transparency  is important, talk to them about your process in how you work through a situation and problem solve.

Let the young person know when you are going to call. Not only in advance but on the day or even a few minutes before the call. This gives the best chance that they are available and they will  know it’s you that’s calling them. 

Find out what the caller ID of your phone line is. You can let the young person know to expect a call from this number.  You can even say ‘save this number to your phone’ in advance so that they know it’s you calling.  (note only do this if it safe to do so, some abusive situations might make this risky for the client)

If your phone number comes up as an ‘unknown number’ consider working with your organisation to change this. Or let the young person know in advance that they can expect a call from an ‘unknown number’ and that it will be you calling. 

Texts, messaging and social media

Using social media presence and messaging services on social media sites such as instagram and facebook may help you reach young people. However, be aware that these need to be managed correctly and it needs to be clear how messages are monitored and whether a young person who reaches out on a messaging service can expect an answer if they are in an emergency. 

Whatsapp is a useful resource for keeping in touch with young people and can often be a good way to share images of documents etc. It can be an efficient way to get specific information or details. 


Young people in crisis or in vulnerable situations may not have a stable address or may not want to receive letters at their current address

Avoiding jargon and using clear english

Throughout the project, young people and others often reported that advice workers used jargon, acronyms or complicated language which was hard to understand. This is especially likely in technical areas and around benefits where specific terms may not be clear. 

Speak clearly, using plain english and short sentences.

Avoid jargon. If there is a jargon term that is important to their case e.g. mandatory reconsideration, explain what the term means

If the young person has English as an additional language 

Speak in short sentences and don’t use idioms

Allow for silence- thinking time is important to process what’s been said. Don’t feel you need to keep talking to fill it

What does a young person-friendly advice service look like?

We spoke to advisers, support workers and young people to understand what a young person-friendly advice service looks like. We know that making some of these changes are not possible because of resources - but we thought that it was useful to be aware of principles to work towards. 

  • One that is open and available outside 'office hours' With flexibility to engage. 
  • Show warmth and compassion even when you can't actively support on related issues outside your scope
  • Clear information online in accessible language about what your service can help with (and what it can’t)
  • Advisers are explicit on their limitations and what a client might have to get other help with. 
  • Young people can drop in, pick up a leaflet and talk to someone to find out what support is available. 
  • Well connected with marginalised communities
  • Supporting the young person to become independent by developing their strengths
  • Aware of the issues facing young people by listening to them and working with other organisations that help young people 
  • Monitoring who we are supporting and getting their feedback to review whether we can improve. 
  • Advisers listen to young people even when they think they know what they are about to say
  • Space which is open and welcoming without being too formal
  • Reception staff trained and supported to be welcoming and understanding of how young people might present.

Strengths based Questions 

Why are these useful?

Strength based questions are useful in an advice approach because they can be used to look at the whole person to find out what might be going on in other aspects of their life. They can be used to look at everything going on for the individual in a more holistic way. 

More importantly, these questions are based on the resilience of the individual and can help them to problem solve their own issues. 

This gives the young person an opportunity to build a relationship with the adviser based on a collaboration. As an adviser you might be the source for advice and signposting, but ultimately the young person is the best source for their own experience. 

Asking questions to gather information for a case is something that we need to do to be able to accurately diagnose the issue and provide up to date advice for the young person.  

We’ve found over the last 5 years that building in these strengths based questions alongside the diagnostic questions we need to ask as part of our advice work can greatly improve engagement with young people and reduce barriers to continuing advice work with them. 

Strengths based questions look at the knowledge and resiliency of a young person and not at their problems or issues as perceived by another. 

Strengths based questions 

  • What have you tried so far which worked?
  • How did you find the strength to do what you have done?
  • I know things sounds bad - how are you managing things given that
  • Who do you have in your life who might be able to help?
  • How did you get yourself here today?

You can find more Strengths Based Questions in our PDF.



Strengths based questions