My first job was as an apprentice mechanic in a garage. I loved it!
At the end of each day I could add up the customer bills and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing I’d earned my keep. I knew what I’d produced.
Working with troubled kids isn’t like that.
So how do we know we helped?…
For most of us, the working day is taken up with doing things that rarely show us an immediate outcome.
It’s not often I get to the end of the day and can see what I’ve achieved.
And that’s the problem.
Our investment – the work we put in – may work, but we probably won’t get to see it! It’s invisible to us.
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The invisible investment…
One of the reasons for this – if not the main one – is that we are mainly working to prevent harm. Or to undo the problems caused by previous harm.
Either way, it’s a long old job. And we probably won’t be there, years later, when the child or young person realises what they’ve been saved from. If they ever realise at all.
Celebrating what doesn’t happen…
So we need to keep in mind the things we prevent and satisfy ourselves with knowing that things are better because of what we did…
- Greater harm – those involved in child protection work on the premise that it’s better to do something to avert what might happen. That’s an invisible investment. An investment in stopping something. It’s hard to celebrate what didn’t happen. But we really should!
- Further offending – the youth justice system is set up to prevent and reduce offending. Preventing it in those who are susceptible; reducing it in those already doing it. Both are worthy goals. But they are impossible to measure, because when they succeed, nothing happens – offending doesn’t happen.
- Transgenerational problems – when we offer therapy and interventions to help children deal with the damage they’ve suffered, we prevent them repeating it all in their own families. But we don’t see them when they become parents. We don’t see what might have happened had we not intervened.
- A life in custody – some young people spend time in a secure children’s home or secure training centre – for either offending or for their welfare. When they get the help they need and find some stability and purpose for their lives, they don’t tend to enter custody again. A life in and out of prison is prevented.
- Suspicion & isolation – in most settings it’s the people who form the greater part of the intervention. It’s less about what we do and more about the people doing it. Through being valued and cared for, kids learn to trust and value themselves. They are saved from a life of loneliness. It doesn’t happen.
- Ill health – we know that troubled children are at much greater risk of future physical and mental health problems. These are reduced or even alleviated when we intervene. But we never see what reality of how their lives might have been Because it doesn’t happen.
In all these cases, the joy is in what doesn’t happen. The kids themselves may never fully realise what might have been.
But we know!
Much of what we do is a thankless task – no-one celebrates most of it. That’s because they too can’t see the gains, because they can’t see what was prevented.
So we need to stoke our own fire on this one – remind ourselves that what we do is not only good, it can be a life saver! So…
- See your work as an investment – investments never mature quickly. They give the best returns over the long term. Our work is the same.
- Thanks without words – troubled children soon grow up. When they do, they live better lives. That’s our thanks. We may not hear it, but it’s thanks enough!
Perhaps the greatest challenge we face is that of keeping going. It’s hard to do. Especially when it’s a battle and the people we’re trying to help seem to be against us.
But we don’t do it for the thanks, do we? We do it because it’s right. Because kids deserve better. And because they need someone to fight their corner.
Maybe the best way to stay strong, fight the odds and do what’s right – is to remember why we do it in the first place?
What do you think?…
- How have you coped with not seeing the fruits of your work straight away?
- Please let me know your thoughts… Leave a comment below or click here.
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© Jonny Matthew 2016