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Interview with Sanchez Smith, St Giles Trust caseworker

We spoke to Sanchez Smith, a Caseworker at St Giles Trust working on the London Vanguard project in north central London.

The London Vanguard project was set up as part of the work of the London Violence Reduction Programme, and is based around a new model of care with a focus on prevention, early intervention and collaboration.

Case workers like Sanchez act as key advocates for young people impacted by violence, providing vital mental health and wellbeing support.

Tell us about your role and responsibilities at St. Giles Trust? 

As a Caseworker for St Giles Trust and the NCL Vanguard, I work with young people to get them the support they need in a whole range of different areas. This includes everything from education, training and employment support to helping them to know where to go for things like health, housing, family support or financial advice.

My role involves a lot of outreach work in schools and the community. We offer a voluntary service – young people work with us because they want to, not because they have to. Every client is different – I’ve been working with some people for a long time, whilst others come and go. My work is led by the young people and what they want and what they need.

How did your personal experiences lead you to the role at St. Giles and your work with the NCL Vanguard? 

My personal experience shaped me and gave me the skills and mental capacity needed to be a Caseworker. I grew up in Hackney, and a lot of the men around me when I was growing up had been arrested at some point. From an early age I was very aware that actions have consequences – and I made a decision to choose a different path.

I was 21 when I got the job at St Giles Trust. I’d been working as a receptionist at Royal London Hospital, and I heard about the work they were doing from a friend and decided to apply for the role. The young people I work with can see that I understand them and where they come from. I want to use my experience and the experiences of my friends and family to guide young people and show them that the door is always open.

What do you enjoy most about working with young people?

Seeing the innocence in young people is what I enjoy most. Sometimes we forget we are dealing with kids who need nurturing. Working on the Vanguard project has only emphasised my view. I want to help young people to just enjoy being young and being themselves.

I also enjoy connecting young people to other professionals who could add to their support. Our job as caseworkers isn’t to change things, our job is to make those connections, plant seeds of hope and help young people to visualise themselves doing something different.

Where do you start when it comes to forming trusted relationships with the young people you work with?

Relatability is my ideal way of building a rapport with young person, whether that’s through lived experience, or through materialistic items. I’m close in age to a lot of the people I work with and I can relate to them over things like what I wear, how I talk and the music I listen to.

It’s the small things that make a difference – I notice what they take pride in and what they like. I take a real interest in the things that they’re interested in and understand them as a person.

In the same way, they relate to seeing someone like them in my position. They can visualise a future for themselves working and helping other people.

How does your work connect with that of other organisations across London?

One of the first things that we did in this project was to reach out to other services – youth clubs, schools, youth justice services, social services, health services and more. We’re there to bridge the gaps, and we need to work as a team to offer young people the best support possible. Other organisations see us and the way that we work and it benefits everyone, and they can learn from our approach and how we engage with young people.

How important is it to involve young people with lived experience in programmes of work that aim to reduce violence?

In my work, I aim to plant the seeds of progress into the minds of the young people I work with. When they understand and/or can visualise a progressive path, the excuses become less and responsibility increases. This is allowed to happen due to the non-judgmental aspect of our support. They can then understand, what or how they can improve their current needs.

We need to give them a chance to lead by example. Young people can help to bring a new range of ideas and different ways of working to the table, and it’s important to give them the space to share ideas and solutions. Young people need to hear that they don’t need experience to get involved, just a desire to want to change and to help others like them.

How do you think the NHS could work differently to support young people affected by violence?

Health support has to be there in schools. We’re dealing with a new generation and we need to break from the traditional ‘boring’ teaching style. The London Vanguard project has made it clear that young people will engage in educational activities if it stimulates their brains. When young people stop being a child and become adults, we can’t give up on them. Young people are innocent, and the system needs to recognise this.

The NHS is a national institution. One of my biggest achievements in work is having that NHS title. No matter the media uproar, those who comes from ‘broken’ homes or deprived areas will always respect it.

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