I spent some time this afternoon watching The Fairy Jobmother which was on Channel 4 the other night.
Having worked for 3 years with a charity supporting homeless women into independent living (Aquila Way) and also being a trained FE Teacher in Basic Skills of Literacy and Numeracy, so many of the issues that were raised resonated with my experiences and the experiences of the residents and students I worked with:
- Cyclical unemployment, benefits and poverty culture.
- Sense that the benefits system is fleecing them but not being able to get out of it.
- Debt and need, need serviced by credit which is immediate and debt which is long term and crippling.
- Poor financial literacy in terms of understanding 'value' for money - which affects them in their choices in everyday life.
- Fear of a change in lifestyle, of embarrassment at success, fear at being unable to provide.
- Lack of 'achievement' at various stages in life and for various reasons - but with a long term impact on motivation and sense of purpose in undertaking further training and employment.
- Determination to do it alone and yet desperate for people to support them, understand them and listen to their situation. That sense of isolation perpetuates the sense of distance and usually impacts on how much help and support is sought and received.
Alongside all of that is the lifeskills element - Maxine and Dean featured in this programme had got together young and fell pregnant. They don't see many people other than each other. They find it difficult to deal with conflict amongst themselves let alone with other people - benefits officials, loan sharks, the employment adviser featured in the programme. They saw employment as a negative because they only saw it in terms of what they would lose in benefits rather than what they could gain long term.
They didn't know how to cook from scratch and so spent lots of money on cheap processed foods which sapped a lot of their income and continued to make them feel bad for not feeding their daughter enough and particularly affecting Maxine's sense of self esteem because of her weight.
I was fascinated by Hayley Taylor and her approach to Maxine and Dean, building confidence and belief in themselves and helping them see their potential. She exhibited many of the skills and characteristics you'd find in youth, schools, community workers in various settings but with a very focused purpose and with a gritty compassion which was endearing and got the job done. She earnt and commanded respect but was not allowing them to push her over. I liked her. She herself wasn't embarrassed about what she was offering - the prospect of a better life.
She had simple methods and simple messages - simple actions like working through their budget and having a bit of a reality check with it; working with them 1:1 and sharing new experiences and making headway on their behalf and then encouraging them to keep the momentum going; helping them realise how much cash they brought in by laying it out visually on the table.
Hayley had a way of tackling 2 or 3 issues at one time - small goals achieved but done in a short space of time.
The interview skills section was particularly touching but so positive - "How can you teach interview skills to someone who has got them perfect?" was her comment to Maxine and the smile on that girls face...a picture.
I think there are many lessons to be learnt here for youthworkers and those of us engaged with the marginalised of any age. Hayley was hard, focused, positive all the time but didn't let Maxine and Dean make excuses. She mentored, coached, managed and supervised and above all believed in her methods and her own ability and wanted to pass on those skills.
There is much to be taken on board from this series and Hayley's example and I look forward to the rest of the series.