Katie Sanders-Smith is a second year student on the BA (Hons) Youth and Community Work (Youth Justice). For the workplace element of the course, she is a Sessional Youth Worker at the YMCA Plasnewydd Community Centre.
Having experienced the youth justice system first-hand, I realised that I wanted to help people who are in the position I was in. My goal is to be able to steer young people back on track with their lives and this course gives me the opportunity to do so. I have a particular interest in learning about the work which goes on behind the scenes when helping young people. This gives me a greater appreciation of the efforts the youth workers put in when assisting me.
There are many career paths you can take following the degree. I would like to start my own youth offending service and that’s the reason why I chose to specialise through the youth justice pathway. It is an area of work that is difficult to get your foot-in, so having a degree and being a qualified youth worker is essential.
My role as a Sessional Youth Worker at the YMCA Plasnewydd Community Centre involves me supporting young people in many ways. These include operating the C-Card scheme (free condom service for young people), providing advice on home and family issues and even helping with homework. It’s my job to create a safe, happy environment for them to be able to off-load, burn some energy and have a blast!
What I enjoy most about my role is building relationships with young people. You do have to work within boundaries, but once you have gained the trust of one person, others begin to follow suit. When a young person opens up, you find out so much about their lives and much more than you would have expected. Sometimes this takes you out of your comfort zone, but the course is designed to prepare you for this, so that you can deal with any challenges you are presented with head-on.
The support I have received from the University has been amazing – particularly the help I have had from Mick Conroy. From the start, Mick has been aware of my background and nonetheless he has given me a chance on the course and has provided guidance every step of the way. It’s incredibly encouraging when someone can see you’re potential. It fuels your determination to succeed in what you’re doing to be able to make them proud.
Reflecting on my personal experiences of being in the youth justice system and through studying the course, I now realise the amount of work that goes into helping young people. If you’re considering a career in youth justice, it is important to keep believing in yourself. The role you undertake will undoubtedly be trying at times; but the tougher the challenge the bigger the reward. When dealing with young people my policy is to be firm but fair. In doing so I have been able to earn their respect, trust and engagement - the first step in making a difference to their lives.