We often speak about how the relationships we build with young people form the foundations of our work. Members of staff, who were all part of the Music and Change project, spent time thinking about what they thought were the key building blocks to making a relationship work. They also reflected on the things that didn’t work well and how they overcame these challenges. This blog post by no means represents the only way of ‘doing’ relationships with young people but rather provides a space to share what worked well for different members of the team and what they learnt from the sticky points along the way.

1. First the team were asked to think of the top five essential building blocks of the relationship with young people. This is demonstrated by the word cloud above. The larger words, represent those that were suggested by more than one member of staff.

2. Then the team were invited to share their thoughts on a building block of their choice.

3. Finally and perhaps the most difficult task posed to the team was to share a challenge or a dilemma that they experienced in a relationship with young people and what they learnt from it. Here are the dilemmas shared by the team.

“I was leading on a data collection task. I found myself slipping into an unhelpful teacher student dynamic with a young person who seemed to be rushing through his questionnaire. The situation became heated and he left the building without finishing. I thought together with young people who were present and the team and they helped me to see how difficult a classroom-like context could be for this young man. Later a worker who was closer to the young person spoke to him when he felt calmer and supported him to think about my position. The worker supported us to come together and think about how we got to where we did, doing so left us with a strong relationship than we’d had when we started.”

“I found that the biggest challenges arose when there was a missing link of communication between myself and the young person. When I assumed a young person understood my thinking or that I understood theirs I was in murky waters. Being explicit about what was on my mind felt strange and awkward at first but helped to dispel misunderstandings and encouraged other young people to share their thoughts and feelings too.”

“One thing I have found challenging and believe may have been challenging for young people was my transition from service-user to staff member. As a staff member the cohort we engaged were my peers. Boundaries were tested and relationships were changed but over time I believe the right balance was found, which allowed the team to further support the cohort, and helped the cohort best use the service to their advantage.”

“The most important aspect of a relationship is recognising what you are bringing to the interaction, as well as trying to understand what the young person is bringing. Times of challenge have taught me to learn from the way I have contributed and have been opportunity to repair. The work is about getting it wrong and seeing this as being as important as getting it right. If you are able to ‘think together’ with the team or in supervision, it enables you to ‘own’ getting it wrong and be explicit about this to young people. This overtime, whilst difficult, may serve to strengthen the relationship.”

“I hold the view that bridging relationships between young people and other professionals is a worthwhile task and that fostering ‘dependency’ on one professional is problematic. However I wondered whether there had been times that I bridged relationships between young people and other team members or professionals and subsequently took too great a step back, and that I did this without making my intentions clear enough or communicating this with the young person. This may have had the unintended consequence of leaving them feeling abandoned or ‘passed on’. My experience was that having clear, explicit and transparent conversations with young people about the bridging process as well as endings was helpful and reparative.”

“I have had experiences where I have encouraged young people to work with another professional who may have more expertise than me in a particular field (e.g. benefits, housing, employment support) but this has not been successful. Whilst bridging young people into work with other professionals is beneficial, I have learned how important this it is to do this thoughtfully and in a way that is co-constructed with the young person. E.g. introducing other professionals gradually and giving time for trust to be built, arranging meetings in a space that young people choose.”