Senior Transition worker Gemma Brunelli has worked at Break for two years, supporting young people in the process of moving on from a previous care placement into one of Break’s Staying Close properties or their own tenancies. She tells us about some of the challenges the young people face and why she loves working for Break…
"Our young people don’t understand about rent, council tax or bills, so, when they move on into their own accommodation, they simply don’t know what to do. In Break’s Staying Close houses, they have an agreement to pay a reduced tenancy fee and we support them alongside this. This tends to be a transitional period of time of around two years, at which point they are ready to move to the next step of their own full private tenancy, with Break supporting and guiding them as needed.
"We work with young people to help them with their day to day tasks – budgeting, finding a job, writing a CV and supporting them with independent living skills, like cooking and cleaning. Many don’t understand that someone isn’t going to clean up after them and that it is their responsibility, so it’s a big learning curve. We also help with their emotional wellbeing and even the social dynamics of the house – there can be up to two, sometimes three, young people in one of the homes, so it’s important to understand others’ feelings and work through any issues.
The pandemic has been a real challenge all round, as some have slightly disengaged, and how we communicate with young people has changed. Not everyone likes video calls, so we’ve been doing lots of telephone calls and texts too.
We physically see every young person at least once a week. During the pandemic, we obviously couldn’t go inside houses, so had to talk on the doorstep. But, of course, not all conversations are appropriate for a doorstep, so at times it was a real challenge. Some young people really couldn’t understand why we couldn’t take them to the supermarket and struggled with not seeing people or going out. Some did go out and we can’t police that, and that has an impact on us, as we can’t then go to see them as we don’t know where they have been. It has been really hard because we just want to keep people safe.
"A couple of young people have been on furlough and their mental health has suffered. We have one waiting to start an apprenticeship – and they just want to get on with their lives.
Some young people who have left care don’t have anyone else to contact them. Making friends as a child is easier but, as you get older, it is actually really hard to make valuable friendships. Often we are their main contact and relationship, so building good long term relationships with these young people is so important.
A lot of them have become very comfortable in their flats and houses and I do think they will struggle, like many of us, when we can go out again. Many are stuck in a bit of a rut on things like PlayStation and Xbox, so we will have to coax them out and take it step by step.
"Many are connected with mentors and they have been in regular telephone contact, which also provides another level of support for the young person, as there may be things that they talk to a mentor about that they wouldn’t tell us about and vice versa.
"We have tried to engage with the young people in lots of different ways, especially with our Aspiration team. We have done lots of group activities on Zoom, from cookalongs – weighing out ingredients for a curry and delivering portions for cooking together across East Anglia was interesting – to arts sessions and crafts packs that give them something to interact with. It has been good that so many people from Break, across different areas, have pulled together, and something we will continue as we move forward. We all can’t wait to have BBQs and activities again!
One young lad moved on into a flat and had a baby with his girlfriend. I remember being on call when he phoned to tell me they had had their baby - it was such a special moment, being the first to know. I visited after a few weeks and it was so wonderful to see them and be part of their lives. One year before, he had been in such a different place and it is amazing how far he has come. To be part of that journey makes me feel incredibly proud and we still stay in touch. Sometimes, as they move on, they don’t need to be in touch as much, but we are always here if they do.
"Another example is when I first started and a young man had high levels of anxiety. Every Friday, he would text saying he couldn’t cope and was struggling, but we worked really hard together and one day something clicked, and he said he wanted to move. We supported him and, by luck, he moved almost opposite the other lad with the baby and they are now really good friends and he even went over to theirs for Christmas dinner!
All this happened during lockdown, so it was especially hard. You could fortunately do viewings on properties and get in carpet fitters, but moving day was very odd, and we couldn’t have as many people to help as we normally would. But, in hindsight, this really worked for them as they had to be more independent and just get on with it, and they have benefitted from that.
Working for Break
"I used to work with adults with learning disabilities and loved that – taking them on trips, days out and doing activities. I wasn’t really sure what a transition worker was, but it has been one of the best jobs I have ever done. Just talking to the young people and making relationships with them and seeing a difference in them and how far they have come, makes me feel proud and is so rewarding.
I really like working for Break, as I feel supported and know that if I have an idea, it could be actioned. It’s good to feel important in the organisation and that we all matter. Working at Break you get a sense of family and really are part of something - it’s refreshing.
At the start of the first lockdown, I did a 14 hour shift at one of our children’s homes in King’s Lynn! Quite honestly, I was so anxious having never worked in a home like that before. You see shows like ‘Tracy Beaker’ and think it will be like that, but it wasn’t. It really was like a family with everyone eating dinner together around the table and laughing and joking, just like any other family. In the evening, sitting with the young people, talking to them and watching TV, I really wanted to go back as it is such a nice environment to work in."