Catherine Healy met social worker David Brown to find out how he helps young people work towards better lives.
When David Brown left Auckland Grammar School his first job was in a bank. He stayed three years, but ultimately he knew it wasn't for him.
He became a painting contractor and while he enjoyed being self-employed, it was fairly solitary work and he wanted more human contact.
"I had always been interested in people and sometimes friends would talk to me about their issues."
So at 28 he went to university and studied to become a social worker.
The Onehunga resident ended up working for Child Youth and Family and found he had a talent for working with youth. Over the years he's done a lot of intensive work with youth offenders. He's been in the job 11 years now and still loves it. Every week is still a steep learning curve.
"On a hard day it's bloody tough and on a good day it's incredibly rewarding," he says.
Mr Brown has been appointed to a special project working with challenging youth. Fifteen young people have been nominated by Child Youth and Family offices all over Auckland.
These are difficult cases in which other social workers have tried and failed to engage with a young person.
The theory is, given a little more time and attention these kids can make real progress.
So Mr Brown currently has a caseload of just three young men - that's much smaller than the 10 to 12 people a social worker would normally have on their books.
"You really get to know them well. All of them are in our legal custody and some have offending issues.
"They're mostly offending for a reason. It's often a symptom of something else. Sometimes it's just kids doing silly things - but most often not. There's a reason behind it.
"You have to learn to go at their pace. It's tempting to want to move along with the plan but you have to remember that some of them have been seriously neglected. It's not as black and white as it first appears."
Building a relationship is key, he says.
"It's really about understanding them and being meticulously honest with them and trying not to let them down as so many other people have. Sometimes you only get one chance and the relationship can be lost overnight."
Mr Brown says it's a great career, as social workers are needed in so many different sectors.
By forming a partnership with a corporate, Mr Brown has managed to put several young people into fulltime work.
"Getting work experience is tough for them. It's really difficult now if you leave school with little or no qualifications.
"I wouldn't refer anybody that I didn't think could sustain fulltime work.
"Just because someone is a youth offender does not mean they can't go on to better things," he says.
"Most of them grow out of it."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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