Youth Ink-01

Our second interview was with Mifta Choudhury from Southwark based Vanguard Partner, youth charity Youth Ink

Our second interview was with Mifta Choudhury from Southwark based Vanguard Partner , youth charity Youth Ink.

Youth Ink is an aspirational voice, providing a stage for those who have not been given a legitimate first chance. Youth Ink comprises those who have lived experience of the criminal justice system and the wider issues surrounding it, such as racial discrimination, addiction and mental health problems.

“Young people feel that statutory services can be rigid in how they operate.” That’s the feedback Youth Ink, a Vanguard partner in Southwark, gets from the young people they work with, according to the organisation’s CEO Mifta Choudhury. “We operate in a different way, our language is different.”

Youth Ink works with young people who have come up against the criminal justice system, are at risk of exploitation, or are struggling with their mental health. It is supporting the Vanguard with outreach work with young people aged 13-16. They can be referred by social services, NHS, or schools, and young adults over 16 can refer themselves to the project. Some are known to the Criminal Justice system, they may be known to police because of anti-social behaviour, they may be around the wrong young adults. Some have a mental health problem.

“The Vanguard Hub team provides clinical support for those who need more help than we can offer, says Mifta. “But we’re on that journey with them.”

Mifta describes Youth Ink as a lived-experience charity. “The unique thing is that we employ people who’ve been through the programme. All employees have lived experience – of mental health, criminal justice, disadvantage.”

People who have been through the programme are in turn offered the opportunity to become peer support workers. Mifta himself was 12 the first time he got involved in crime – a burglary – and by the age of 16 he was in custody and served a total of just over 13 years.

One side of Youth Ink’s work is what Mifta describes as “collaborative interventions,” including a peer-led conversation hub which allows young people to talk about their concerns. “It’s a chance for them to have their voices heard by the services that matter to them,” he explains.

For its Lived Trauma programme, Youth Ink consulted with 180 young people, to find out what they wanted from a mental health programme, what it should cover, who should deliver it. The feedback was they wanted to speak to other young people. Some 65 people came up with a 6-week programme – the whole project developed and delivered by young people.

“Our first role is to engage with people,” he explains. It might take three weeks, it might take longer but we’re alongside them. People have had difficult experiences with the system, and we can say we’ve been there.

”Youth Ink has two ways of contacting people: statutory service make referrals and young adults can refer themselves. We recruit young people ourselves and ask them to recruit others. There is a four-week programme of engagement, building relationships.

“It’s on the young person how much they get involved,” It’s on the young person how much they get involved,” It might be workshops, training, it might be taking them to a picnic in Greenwich Park – people who’ve never been for a picnic. says Mifta. “We have young people in our projects who thought they’d never make it to university and we’re supporting them to do that.”

For Mifta, building a relationship with the families is key: “We bridge the gap between service users and the system. The services are there it’s up to you to use them. A lot of families have had terrible experience of NHS, police, social care, and people don’t want to get involved because of that. I like to take parents out for a bit of lunch. People relax, it’s a different dynamic.

“Services need to engage not just the young person but with the family at large. You can speak to the young person, but they are going back to the family, but they’re not always aware who don’t always know what’s going on. We should engage with the whole family. By engaging the whole family, they will come back to you. They will seek help from you, rather than just receiving a call after six weeks that says it’s finished. They have a relationship.”

Brother and sister Skye and River, aged 12 and 13, have been involved with Youth Ink through Southwark’s Ambition Programme since January this year. They were referred by their older brother, Morgan, as they were not attending school. He has already noticed an improvement in their confidence.

“I’ve improved a lot in talking to other people,” says River. “I’m still getting there. I’m getting to the point where I can start a conversation.

Skye agrees: “Having weekly sessions has been good for me, I get out of the house more. I think more young people need to be involved in programmes like this.”

Mifta believes that the way the Vanguard partnership works is key to supporting communities: “Vanguard brings out the uniqueness of collaboration. What we’ve done in Southwark is we’ve got voluntary sectors and statutory services together to create a unique community programme that is co-produced not only be the organisations, but which involves the young people in that co-production. That is the key for me, that co-production and lived experience of the community and the organisations involved in it.”

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