Working With Vulnerable Children

Bradley Ogg is a professional childcare and youth worker in his twenties. He's been involved with vulnerable children and high-risk teenagers for the past six years - voluntarily, through studies, church and his workplace. We asked Brad a few questions around his experiences in working with vulnerable children.

First and foremost. Why do you do what do?

I do what I do; simply because I love working with young people. I have the opportunity to give back to the community and these kids, it's hard to find something that's more rewarding. Knowing that I am apart of something that is much bigger than myself is one of my key motivators.

When did you get involved in this area of work?
I have always been involved with youth in a sense, but I accepted my professional position in the middle of 2017.

Initially what sparked your interest?
For me, it was the opportunity to work with teenagers that don't necessarily have a vast amount of role models to look up to. I'm passionate about providing them the help they need to get back into mainstream schooling, or the workforce.

It can be a tough job, so what causes you to stick around?
The students and the work environment. My colleagues are an amazing bunch of people. I have never experienced a working environment like it. Everyone is so bubbly and supportive. We have good fun. And of course, the students. It's hard NOT to stick around when you love supporting and guiding them.

During the New Years break, Brad volunteers for an organisation called Fusion Beach Mission. They organise popular events and kids programmes for the towns-people and holidayers in Whangamata. Brad works closely with the community and individuals they meet there.

What kind of experience have you had with vulnerable children / teens?

Growing up in Whangamata I had been a key leader in youth and high-school when it came to working with young people. The correlating responsibilities introduced me to a role where I was supporting vulnerable teenagers. Now I work in Alternative Education and it's really boosted my wealth of knowledge and experience in this area. I'm also a University student that's studying primary school teaching at AUT. So I've also had some experience with placement work and insights from industry leaders and lecturers.

What kinds of skills do you think really pay off in a job role like yours?

The skills I most value would have to be patience and the ability to keep calm. We need to realise that at the end of the day, these are teenagers. I think the worst thing one can do, is to get angry and lose cool. For the kids it's only agitating. And we need to keep calm because everyday there is a new challenge or incident. The calmer we are, the easier it is to de-escalate the situation.

How has your work life / circumstances overflowed into your personal life?

It's often said that youth work is a 24/7- 365 job. Meaning ... the work never ends. Its less so about doing work in your personal time, but more so about having to be alert! I could get a call of distress at any time. So for me it's important to have that understanding at the back of my mind. Matched with knowing how to switch off! Apart from that it's pretty easy to separate work and my personal life.

What kind of qualifications or training would you recommend others to look at, if they were wanting to work with vulnerable children?

To be honest, I am unsure on this. Definitely some training in either social work or education, whether that be at university or other post-school courses. However I also feel experience is hugely important. Whether you get that experience by studying, or volunteering in the community. Work places value that just as highly.

Brad works for Bays Youth Community Trust. Their motto is to help youth, to help themselves, which they achieve through facilitating youth mentoring, coaching, counselling and alternative education.

As an experienced mentor of vulnerable children, what advice would you give to a teacher who hasn’t had much experience and is struggling with a student in their programme / classroom.

My advice would be to look beneath the surface of the child to find out what's going on. Seldom do children play up without a reason, and too often will teachers write them off as a ‘naughty child’. But when you find the reason behind it, there is always a solution. If you're finding a child difficult, then instead of looking at what they can change, look at yourself first. How are you adapting to meet the needs of this child? Because our practice as teachers needs to be flexible to meet the needs of every student in our class.

What's a way that you could suggest dealing with a difficult child in class, yet still manage the rest of your student body?

That's always a hard one. With my current line of work we have at least 3 - 4 tutors on at once. Our organisation is all about having those 1 on 1 discussions, while the rest are managed by other teachers. However in a classroom setting with one teacher, behavior management is crucial to an effective classroom. For me, I wouldn't treat that child any different to the others. However I would spend more time with him when roaming, etc. But it also will depend on the needs of the student, because I have been in classrooms where students are given their own teacher aide / support person if their needs are high.

How do you separate your personal emotions / opinions / thoughts and feelings from being professional in a tough situation?

This is important because there are definitely times where this is can be an issue. I think the best way to manage this is with the support around you in your team. At my work, we have supervision meetings. This gives us a chance to talk about work and the things that frustrate us. In these meetings you are also given strategies to deal with issues , such as seperating emotions. We use these tools in our classroom environment.

Brad is heavily involved with various community groups that reach out to youth in New Zealand. Fusion Beach Mission, Whangamata Baptist Youth Group, Vanuatu Relief Missons Team and Harbourside Youth Group, are just a few to mention.

In your opinion, why is the number of high-risk teenagers in NZ so high? What contributes to this factor?

I think that a big reason would be a combination of family life and school. Lets face it, school isn't for everyone. But the model that continues to fail our kids is slowly changing. When kids feel school is failing them, it's a major contributor to behavior. But also family life, not all New Zealand kids are given the same opportunity. Eg. finance, location, upbringing.

What changes do you think could be made to make a difference?

I think the more support the students have transitioning from highschool to the workforce, is a key change. It's getting harder for students that are high risk to make that transition, and the support just isn't there. Also a change in the school environment where students feel safe to learn and make mistakes, rather than this notion that they all need to be at a certain level to be considered ‘successful’.

Mihi Church
Auckland, New Zealand. Website
I attempt life day by day with a coffee in hand. Keyword - ATTEMPT. Ha! When I'm not blogging; you'll find me amidst some kind of social gathering, on a road trip or running around on a court :D