EVERYDAY SALVO: Daniel making a difference
Auxiliary-Lieutenant Daniel Smith has been a chaplain to the Youth Services in Western Australia for four years, working with young people in the metro services. He spoke with Others Online writer Anthony Castle about his role.
What does an average day look like for you?
Our Youth Services offer a suite of services. There’s OASIS House and Landsdale House, which are residential care facilities for young people 15-18 that are still in the care of the department. Our Independent Living Program is for young people experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of homelessness. Our Transition Support Services offer case management for those leaving care, helping them transition to adult independence. As a chaplain, I engage each of those services and offer support to staff and clients. The role is essentially the same: I offer pastoral support, build relationships or help clients with appointments. Sometimes it’s spending time together, sometimes it’s helping with the bigger things.
What types of young people do you work with?
In the Independent Living Program, it can be flexible with young people. We can have a single parent with a child or two young people as roommates. We can work with young couples with children too. In Transition Support Services, we work with young people leaving care. The challenge there is identifying the gaps in their learning. Depending on their care experience, they might be getting all their meals cooked for them, and now they’re out of care and in different programs. Young people are good at covering up for themselves and not show those gaps. We have young people who may not know how to read, but they are good at skirting around it. Unless you ask about it, you wouldn’t know.
What methods and mechanisms do you use to help with those gaps?
The way we work is to use a collaborative approach, looking at what the young people need and seeing what services there are to meet their needs. If a local church has a good emergency relief program, we might take them along there for food assistance. That way, they know where to go once we’re out of the picture. We introduce young people to a wider network and to other people with similar experiences, it builds their own support network. We had a number of young people who were having babies, so we started a young parent’s group and gave them a place to meet and grow support. Out of that, good relationships were formed, people looking after each other’s children and supporting each other.
In a sense, your job is really to help them over the final leg of adolescence. It’s modelling adulthood so they can become one themselves and move on.
In good youth work, you’re trying to help young people become independent citizens. It’s strength-based, building up their efficacy, their self-confidence. We’ll walk them through something. Someone may not feel comfortable on the phone, so you make the doctor’s appointments for them. Then the next time, you remind them of how it was done, sit beside them, and help them think of the prompts for it all. The next time they need a doctor’s appointment, you can say remember the last time we did this. You use that experience to transition to other domains; it applies to budgeting, whatever skills they need. Every problem is an opportunity for learning.
What difference does it make?
You can have really good days when kids are kicking along, and then you can have young people who are in continual crisis. In that moment, you ask, does it ever get better for this young person? But then you see a young person get their driver’s licence for the first time or get their keys for the first time. You see these turning points in young people’s journeys. When there is a supportive and consistent adult in a young person’s life, it makes all the difference. We refer to the idea of unconditional positive regard, which is you can shout and yell and kick-off, and we’ll put boundaries around that, but you can come back the next day. You can know that the support will still be there. We understand that those things still happen and plan around it, but with good support you see those things reduce over time. That alone is transformational for the young person.