As Yvonne House celebrated it's 4th Birthday earlier this month, current resident THM caught up with Young Futures Service Managers- Alice Field and Jodie Wickers, to find out about what makes Yvonne House special and the thinking and process behind why it was set up. Read the full exclusive interview here....
T: So… What is it about this house that you think makes it different from other residentials?
A: Very good question, we think about that a lot….
J: That’s a question to the heart as well, that’s why we wanted it to build Yvonne House. We wanted it to be different to other places but capture the good parts of all the different places, put them together, and create somewhere which was excellent. That’s what we felt young people in care deserved.
A: Our approach is different, there are two main things we wanted to do one of which was the therapeutic approach, meaning that all young people have access to therapy both group and 1-1. You could have a therapist for as long as you wanted and then when you moved into the community hopefully you could keep that therapist, we thought that continuity of care was really important. We wanted to make sure that the staff had meetings with therapists as well, because the staff take on and think about a lot, we wanted to make sure the staff were thinking in a way that was keeping the care of the young people at the heart of their thinking. Instead of thinking: this thing happened- what is my reaction? Thinking: this thing happened- what is going on for the young person, why might they be behaving in this way, what might be going on behind what they are showing to us…
J: We felt so many young people, that we key-worked before we set up Yvonne House, had been failed by systems that are based on ‘3 warnings and you’re out’. It felt really important that YH was built on thinking about behaviour and working things through, that bad things can happen but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. That felt really important when meeting other young people and hearing about the impact of being in placements for a long time and then one incident meaning the placement was ended. We learnt from them how that felt, the impact of that on their self-esteem, and the rest of their lives.
A: We had young people referred to YF who were 17 and had over 20 placements, we thought that was unacceptable. The other thing is our behaviour approach which is built on reparation and relationships. Instead of thinking: you did something wrong you need to be punished….thinking: something happened, who was harmed and how do you want to repair. When conflict happens between two people both people are in someway harmed, we wanted to think about how to repair harm. It is based on evidence that punishment doesn’t work for long term change.
J: Sometimes placements end because people are angry, we felt that anger wasn’t a bad thing, it’s ok to be angry so long as it could be worked through safely. So that’s why we wanted to do safety plans and response agreements so staff could think about what the young person needed, and support could be personalised.
J: And then there’s the build as well, we wanted it to be quite like university halls, preparing for independence, not like a children’s home because it is different. But to still feel like a place that is cosy and relaxing.
A: We wanted it to be a nice and good environment, where we care about you, care about the things you have and the way that we work with you.
J: One thing that was really important is that when things are broken, they are fixed really quickly so you can feel like it’s a new day.
A: The cleaners come in too, so if you have had a horrible evening, there’s something about coming down the next morning to a kitchen that’s clean, it feels like ‘ok, a new start’.
T: Why are there only 9 residents in this house?
J: I think the 9 number came mostly due to finance. We didn’t want to go too big, in fact 9 is quite big, ideally, we’d have a smaller house. If we could do Yvonne House again, we’d probably have maybe 6 rooms.
A: When we started it we wanted to have more space for meeting rooms so that’s why we ended up having to build the cabin, there’s only here (the lounge) and the kitchen for young people to have space, time out and different things. The best possible thing would be to have more space for break out and more space for therapy etc
J: Before we opened we went to visit other provisions: children’s homes, specialist children’s homes and big hostels to see what the difference was in terms of the type of support, the staffing, the people who lived there and the needs and risks they had. We felt that hostels, for example, were way too big for young women and it felt like a smaller place would be better. One place we went to had only 4 rooms but that would have been too small for the size of the land we had and to make the building be able to run properly.
T: So why is this house just for girls, not mixed, or why don’t you have one for boys as well?
J: Well we would love to do one for boys, the need is there and the approach would work across genders.
A: It’s important to say that not everyone identifies as female you might have people who identify as female who are going through a transition or someone who identifies as non-binary. This is a house for female-identifying young people. The Local Authorities felt the need was biggest for young women, we wanted to create a space where young women and female identifying young people could also learn about safety in relationships in a safe space. That is one of the reasons for the visitor’s policy and front door, choice based to leave, but no one can just enter the building.
A: It took ten years to get this off the ground…..
T: Ten years!!
A: Yeah from the idea, to being made, to people actually walking in through the door. That took ten years, it gives you a sense of the amount of thinking that went in.
T: …….so that’s why it’s 2006!
(those of you who have lived and worked at YH will know what this means!)
J: We wanted to keep the quality, one thing that was really important was that as an organisation we didn’t grow too quickly, because then you lose the whole reason why something was set up. You can lose the whole approach and the connection to what is going on, when things get bigger and bigger.
A: When we opened Yvonne House, Young Futures grew by 50 percent! That’s a huge jump very quickly and we are still getting our heads around it!
T: Obviously right now you’re getting new staff and keyworkers and you’re going to fill the two empty rooms. Do you feel like it’s going to be too much change at one time, or do you think it can have a positive impact on the house?
A: That’s a really good question, I think both…
J: I think that positive impact can only come about with loads of thinking about what that change means and feels like. Change affects people in different ways and there has been so much change already. There is also global change with Covid-19 and people’s lives have been affected. So, it needs a lot of thinking in order for it to feel positive, but I think it can very much happen.
A: When people are ready to move on, whether that’s young people or staff, the best thing they can do is listen to their needs and what they need for their future. What it means is the people that come in have gone through a process and really want to be here.
T: What were the challenges about the house and what would you do differently to change it?
A: So many! We started with only 4 keyworkers! And us. We were on the rota, doing earlies, lates and weekends. It was intense, we realised quite quickly that you need space to step back and we didn’t have space to see what was going on. We realised we needed more keyworkers; we’ve learnt how much we can manage in terms of risk over the years too.
J: We’d probably 100% change the building if we could do it again.
A: We had to change it already by putting the cabin in place, because no one had anywhere to be. Jodie and I didn’t have an office space…
J: We actually changed one of the storerooms into an office with a desk and chair, but it felt like you were in a cupboard…
A: Because we were! We sat in café’s and on the side of the road sometimes, we worked everywhere.
We’d probably change the staffing structure, have a mental health nurse or very specialised person to dispense medication for example.
The biggest learning for the future would be to get young people more involved in decisions, to have a proper young peoples’ forum, where your voice is heard and what you say takes effect.
T: So what is your favourite bit about Yvonne House?
J: Seeing young people whose lives have completely changed feels so massive. Young people go through so much change and transformation, seeing them move onto our community flats and do so well! Seeing change in how they feel about themselves and their lives and do stuff they felt they could never do, that’s the whole reason we set Yvonne House up.
Seeing staff come in and how invested and passionate they are, when you feel that way too, it’s so nice seeing others feel that way. Seeing staff build those relationships with young people feels so important, that leads to change….I could talk about it for ages but I might cry!
A: One of my favourite parts is seeing young people become able to express their feelings. When you see someone move from behaving a certain way, acting their feelings out, to being able to say: ‘I am angry’ or ‘I am sad’, is really an incredible development. Difficult feelings are the hardest things for human beings to feel and we are creating a space for that to be felt.
We are very very lucky that our job allows us to see so much recovery and healing…..
J: The hope is so important, to see someone through a process from having very little hope, to believing in themselves for the first time in their lives and having hope for themselves and their future, is unbelievably amazing.