Reflections on Our Way of Working

Dr Sally Wilkins is a recently retired Psychiatrist. She reflects on how the Our Way of Working framework influences the way Jesuit Social Services staff work with young offenders. 

I had the privilege recently of joining with a large audience of emerging practitioners attending a forum led by Jesuit Social Services.

The purpose of the forum was to hear from Jesuit Social Services Senior Practitioners about what it is like to work with young people in the Youth Justice space, how they deal with the many barriers they encounter and how, working within Jesuit Social Services ‘Our Way of Working’ framework, they can overcome those barriers.

Stephanie Mendis described how the Our Way of Working structure drew on the Jesuit Social Services traditions of forming relationships with ‘head, heart and actions’ and was applicable across a wide spectrum of programs from wilderness programs to support work with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. She describes it as a ‘practical roadmap’ for developing relationships with participants.

Becky Halliday from the ‘Connexions’ program emphasised that the work of building these relationships takes ‘time and patience’ and it is so important to let the client ‘set the pace’. The Our Way of Working framework acts as a template which leaves room for the clients individual needs to be accommodated.

Andie Webster, an Intensive Support Worker within the Youth Justice Community reflected on the impact of the ‘Tough On Crime” rhetoric on her young clients – the majority of whom are already subject to stigma and discrimination when they leave custody. She also noted that with ‘longer sentences comes higher recidivism rates’ and that families also bear the burden of these problems.

Jennifer Walters of the Navigator Program supports kids who are disengaging from school and coming into contact with the Justice System. Their criminal activity ‘serves a purpose’ and she works to try and find alternate ways for these young people to feel purposeful and connected with community. Involving family from the beginning is key to success in the work of her program.

Tatiana Fitzgerald, who works as a Group Conference convenor, gave powerful examples of how young offenders and their victims can have their lives ‘turned around’ through the restorative justice process. Most victims and their families don’t want the young offender to go into custody, she explained, they just want the behaviour to stop and the impact of the crime to be understood.

It was great to hear all these practitioners speak with such passion about their work.

I was also able to share with the audience some of my own experience working with young offenders, especially in the post-release environment. Although this work can be difficult, frustrating and complex at times, the rewards are huge. Seeing a young person who has survived horrendous trauma or neglect take steps to re-engage with their community in a positive way is immensely satisfying.

It rewards commitment, common sense, compassion and clinical competence.

You will be challenged by crises, set backs and slow progress, but if you can manage these aspects there are few areas of community work so satisfying. The unmet need is huge and new workers in the field are desperately needed.

Hopefully those who attended the Forum will be inspired to consider this field as part of their professional future and will also get involved with Jesuit Social Services ‘Worth a Second Chance’ initiative for young offenders.