A chat with Brimbank services

One of our aims for this project is to support non-youth specific organisations to better engage with young people. To assist with this, Lauren Kerr, Youth Planner at Brimbank Youth Services, invited me to discuss the project with representatives from other Brimbank City Council teams that offer provision for young people but are not what would traditionally be defined as ‘youth’ services.

I took a train to Sunshine on 29 April, and met Lauren at the Brimbank Council offices. We were joined by Jane McKellar from Brimbank Libraries, Kate George from Brimbank Leisure Services, Patricia Pighin from West Sunshine Community Centre and Raewyn Afu  from St. Albans Connect.

Brimbank Park

Brimbank Park. Image: Wikipedia, used under a Creative Commons licence.

There was a fantastic range of experience and knowledge at the table, which led to a lively and informative discussion. We talked through the benefits of engaging with young people, the challenges of this work at a local government or community level, the learning from previous local successes and ideas for the project resources. Highlights from the discussion are below. Thanks to everyone for their contributions and to Lauren for organising the meeting.

Key messages:

  • Young people are a significant part of the community, so it is right for all local council and community services to engage with them
  • Young people are active citizens who have much to contribute
  • Collaborative, inter-generational work is vital to increasing community cohesion and perceptions of community safety
  • Working with young people can give you energy, ideas and keep you young!
  • There is a need to improve understanding across community and council settings of how to engage with young people. This should become normalised and such training should be embedded in councils’ corporate induction processes for employees
  • Youth services are excellent for guidance and adding value but it is important that other council services realise that they are there to support, not to do their job for them
  • Planning stages for services need to include young people around the table
  • Going out and meeting with different groups builds trust – get to know people’s names!

Challenges to engaging with young people:

  • Responding to different age groups – young people have different needs and interests at 12, 16, 19 etc.
  • Responding to young people’s cultural backgrounds or first language
  • Responding to aggressive interactions among young people or between young people and council employees or members of the public
  • Staff confidence in engaging with young people
  • Breaking down adult assumptions about young people
  • Challenging perceptions about young people and community safety
  • Responding to the different needs and interests of young women and young men
  • Dealing with the generation gap,
  • Fractured relationships with council or Police officers

Learning from previous local youth engagement successes:

  • Be clever with space to accommodate different community needs, e.g. “hot” (noisy and lively) and “cold” (quiet and relaxed) zones in shared public spaces like libraries
  • Create mobile spaces that can move to suit different community groups as they evolve
  • Don’t be afraid to take risks and give new things a go
  • Training for staff is crucial
  • Youth engagement champions within different groups are crucial
  • Real, consistent rules and boundaries are needed when working with young people in different community settings
  • Ask young people for their views – if you don’t have direct access to young people, use youth services
  • Young people are highly diverse so make sure you are targeting the right groups and speaking with as many young people as possible

Suggestions for the youth engagement resources:

  • Highlight the customer service aspect of engaging with young people for council services
  • Make sure the resources respond to different learning styles – tools should be audio-visual and textual, training should be offered for those who learn best by doing
  • Create a simple starting point for services
  • Include check-lists and pro-formas so people have something to fall back on
  • Use clear, simple language that can be understood by all
  • Clarify the responsibilities and extent of service roles – i.e. give information about child protection and legal issues
  • Highlight the value of professional and community networks
  • Create an associated induction / training package for staff
  • Use youth workers as role models for other council services
  • Make resources interactive, use technology so there is a range of formats
  • There is still a need for paper-based resources for some people
  • Help answer the question “How do you engage with the disengaged?”
  • Target resources to different settings, or relate to different areas, e.g. sporting bodies
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