“Keep fighting for their rights”

Katie Brennan has firsthand experience of the positive impact of child protection. Now, as Youth Off The Streets’ Refuges Team Leader, she describes how she and her team provide young people with the safety and support they need.
Child protection image of young person

Many young people seek assistance from Youth Off The Streets because they’re escaping a dangerous environment at home. Our refuges provide them with a place to feel included, supported and, most importantly, safe.   

Our Refuges Team Leader, Katie Brennan, received social services assistance when she was a child. This National Child Protection Week, Katie explains how everyone can play a role in improving child safety.  

Tell me about your story and why you are passionate about child protection?  

I have firsthand knowledge of how child protection impacts young people, families and the wider community.  

I grew up in the United Kingdom and when I was 11 years old, I was taken into the care of the department of social services there. Being protected in my adolescence gave me better opportunities. I was removed from my dysfunctional family and had a chance to break the cycle for myself.  

I received positive role modelling from youth workers. I was fortunate to develop close relationships with them and eventually joined young people’s committees, where I helped provide national feedback on legislation.   

I’ve seen how a lack of child protection affects young people. It impacts their safety and their development, both emotionally and socially, and can result in children and young people being unable to break the cycle of abuse and other trauma.  

In what ways does child protection make a difference to young people?   

It makes a huge difference. It gives them the right to safety, access to education, healthcare and legal support. When it comes to reporting laws, it helps make a difference as measures are made to remove a child from danger.   

That’s the importance of the leading agencies; they have the power to step in and set clear expectations for those who have children, or who work with them.  

It allows children and young people to feel safe while receiving assistance from organisations like ours.   

Safe environments are essential to a young person’s development. We do everything in our power to give them a supportive environment that enables them to have better outcomes, opportunities and enjoy life as a young person.  

How does Youth Off The Streets ensure young people’s rights are protected?  

Father Chris Riley has always been a great advocate for young people. We know harmful environments and circumstances negatively impact children.   

We take safeguarding and child protection seriously. We have fundamental practices to ensure a safe environment. We also use robust policies and procedures in line with all current legislation and regulations.   

When young people move into one of our refuges, the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms is one of the first pieces of paper they’re given. We explain that regardless of where they live and who they’re living with, every child and young person has the right to live free from abuse and have access to healthcare and education.  

We ensure that our clients feel safe, and they’ll be in an environment where they can give us feedback on our service without judgement or repercussions. We’re passionate about involving young people and giving them a voice to show how we can improve our service and make it a more inclusive, safe and happy environment to live in.   

I love my joband knowing that we’re a leading youth organisation with excellent outcomes for young people. It makes me happy to work for an organisation that takes child protection seriously and gives them the proper support to achieve great things.  

Why do young people seek help from our refuges and how do we support them?  

We see many young people coming into our refugees to escape domestic and family violence. They can be impacted by a parent’s alcohol and drug use, or sibling rivalry that turns into a dangerous situation. The pandemic has caused a lot of stress for families, and it makes circumstances more challenging.  

Our job is to provide safe and secure housing and access to education, find employment, help them rebuild their sense of identity and self-worth, and form trust and healthy relationships with adults.   

The best way we can support young people is by getting to know them and understanding what they want and need. Of course, we aim to get them into long-term housing or reconnect with their family where possible, but it’s essential that young people in our services feel heard.  

We work with young people rather than working for them, and guide them to make the right decisions about their lives.   

How do our refuges cultivate a safe and healthy environment for the wellbeing of young people?  

We set up an inclusive and non-judgmental environment. We set clear boundaries for all of our staff and young people to give them the highest level of child protection.  

We build good relationships with young people and develop their trust. They feel that if they raise safety concerns, we take them seriously.  

And importantly, we’re making life as fun as possible for our young people. Especially during the lockdown, we want to provide a comfortable and enjoyable space for them to live. 

What can the community do to protect children’s rights?   

Awareness is the best place to start. The community can learn what young people and children’s rights are.  

Even if you don’t have children, you still have a responsibility. You’re going to come into contact with a child at some point, so you must understand what their rights are and why they have those rights.  

You can do that by getting involved in local children’s rights and child protection committees. You can participate in events and programs and be a good role model for young people.  

Most importantly, share concerns if you have them. All agencies that provide services to children, young people and their families have a role in their safety, welfare and wellbeing. 

Agencies are required, by law, to take reasonable steps to coordinate decision-making and the delivery of services for children or young people.  

If you have concerns and feel like those concerns aren’t being addressed, keep fighting for that young person. Keep fighting for their rights because sometimes these young people don’t have anyone else to fight for them.   

To learn more about our housing and homelessness services, click here.

To learn more about National Child Protection Week, click here.

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