What happens when we don’t have hope?

Talking Hope has asked its project partners and steering group to contribute guest blogs, sharing their personal and professional reflections on hope.

Our first blog is by Fiona Dyer, interim director of CYCJ:

Since Joining the Talking Hope Steering Group, I have been reflecting a lot on my practice as a social worker (which was some time ago), as well as my role as a manager and also as a mother.

As a social worker I can recall many examples where I was exceptionally positive and hopeful regarding a young person’s future, even when it felt I was a lone voice. I would advocate for them, encourage them in any way that I could and always emphasised the positives, in a balanced way, when writing reports. Yet if I am truly honest with myself, there were also times that I was not hopeful, I couldn’t see a way out for the young person or my attempts to help had been blocked or refused, which I am sure would be evident in the language I used if I was to look back at my reports and case notes. How this impacted on these young people, I am not sure, as I never asked. But if the professionals in your life are not hopeful for you, or have given up trying, what chance do you have of being hopeful for yourself?

There are many economic and social factors which can contribute towards a young person losing hope, including poverty and diverse forms of adversity. For professionals, one of the challenges is to find a way of mitigating against these complex situations. The challenge increases when young people are then imprisoned, as our research has shown.

Research undertaken in HMPYOI Polmont by CYCJ (Vaswani, 2015[1]) clearly highlights the impact that loss of hope can have on young people. All of the young men interviewed spoke of their loss of hope, in relation to their future opportunities and prospects, as a result of their behaviour or imprisonment. The pervasiveness of this loss of hope throughout every story poses both practical and perceptual obstacles to successful reintegration and the attainment of positive outcomes later in life.

“[From] 14 or 15 I thought that [I would be in prison] because my two brothers were already in”

“I knew I would end up back in here…I’ve always thought that since I was a wee guy because of my family background and stuff”

In addition, for other young men, the very nature of imprisonment had a direct and catastrophic impact on their hopes for the future….

“I’m hoping but the only thing is my criminal record getting in the way”

“I’ve not got a plan in my head because I know what I wanted to be, I wanted to be a mechanic, but sometimes it works out different”

Vaswani concludes by saying “…for some of the young men, their experiences meant that a sense of being predestined for prison was embedded in their self-concept from a young age, signalling a chronic loss of hope and ambition for the future” (p30).

The feeling of a total lack of hope leaves you so empty that it is no surprise when young people act like they have given up. If you feel there is no hope for your future what is the point of even trying? Or if you do have a glimmer of hope, but no one is there to support and encourage you, and you hit some inevitable stumbling blocks along the way, what would make you continue on this more positive path? As professionals we need to be supportive of the young people we work with. We need to truly believe there is hope for them; to change their behaviour, to do well, to secure employment/training; to achieve whatever it is that they want to achieve in life; as without hope, where would any of us be?

My job now as interim director of CYCJ is to be hopeful for all children and young people. It also requires finding ways to enable staff who support young people to remain hopeful themselves. While the challenges can be significant, there is already a lot of great practice to build on. I will try my best to support this both through my role as a manager at CYCJ, supporting and hopefully inspiring the amazing people I work with, and as a mother at home with my own two babies, who will all too soon be at the stage of finding their own (hopeful) paths in life.

[1] Vaswani, Nina (2015) A catalogue of losses: implications for the care and reintegration of young men in custody. Prison Service Journal, 220. pp. 26-35.

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