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We speak to Simon Godfrey, Operations Manager of a youth offending team at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Council to find out more about his work and his daily routine. 

My journey into social work

I graduated with a History degree in 1997. Having done some voluntary work as a student, I decided to apply for jobs in the social care sector.  I landed a role supporting people with learning difficulties and then worked with young people in supported accommodation. In 2004, whilst working in a supported housing project in Berkshire, I responded to a request from the local authority for staff to train as a social worker. I jumped at the opportunity and graduated from Reading University in 2007. My final placement at uni was in a drug and alcohol team. On the strength of that, I got a job as a substance misuse worker in Oxford County Council's youth offending team. Although my original goal had been a career in adult services, I quickly developed a real passion for working with young people.

My typical day

Inevitably, there's a mundane side to the job, with a significant proportion of my time taken up by quality assurance administration, such as reviewing assessments and reports. However, my other day-to-day work commitments can be quite interesting and varied, from attending court hearings to regular meetings with partner agencies. Like many youth offending teams, we run risk management panels, which I chair on a fortnightly basis. One of the key strengths of the UK's youth offending service model is that teams are multi-disciplinary, often comprising not just social workers, but also the police, probation officers, education workers and parenting workers.

My proudest moments

I've spent most of my 10 years as a qualified social worker in youth offending. It's unrealistic to expect that you can transform the life of every young person you deal with and, sadly, many young people continue offending into adulthood. However, it's very rewarding every time you do help someone really turn their life around, particularly if they've been in custody. I've also been delighted to see young people leaving care and securing employment or moving on to higher education. We've even had a couple of young people who have gone on to train as social workers. It's that kind of thing that really makes the job worthwhile. 

Lessons I've learnt

I guess the most important thing I've learnt is not to give up on any young person. It may be a cliché, but it's nevertheless true: being involved in crime or anti-social behaviour can simply be a phase they're going through. You need to believe in them, stick with them and try to guide them through a difficult period in their lives, while doing your best to minimise any harm they do to themselves or others. 

A large proportion of youth offending, particularly in London, is gang-related. As social workers, we need to offer those young people a different, more positive viewpoint on life. It's also important not to have preconceptions. When a young person commits an offence, it's just the tip of the iceberg. There's a complex journey that they have made to get to that point. Our job is to see the bigger picture and understand the reasons why they have taken the wrong paths.

The most challenging part of my job

Providing expert testimony in court can be challenging. Although my social work training gives me a basic knowledge of the law relating to youth offending, I'm not a legal specialist and I might have to face some difficult questioning from the judge or counsel. 
Over the years I've also had to deal with quite a few situations where a young person has been hostile or aggressive.  Protecting yourself is about risk assessment and management. For example, if you're concerned about a young person being violent, you might ensure there are always two members of staff present at all interviews. Of course, sometimes it's just a matter of being quick on your feet. I can recall one occasion when I had to make a hasty retreat from a potentially dangerous situation.

After work

I'm really passionate about food and wine. The daily commute from Suffolk to London makes it difficult for me to spend a lot of time preparing meals during the week. However, on Saturday nights I love nothing more than cooking up a delicious culinary treat and enjoying it with a glass or two of good wine. I also enjoy listening to a wide range of music – everything from opera to heavy metal!

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