Day in the life of a youth worker: 'I have to reassure them I'm not an undercover Garda'

Day In The Life Of A Youth Worker: 'I Have To Reassure Them I'm Not An Undercover Garda'
Alan Ryan works as part of a programme which aims to engage vulnerable and socially-excluded young people where they choose to congregate
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Danielle Walsh Ronan

Do you remember hanging around the local shop, or at a bus stop when you were younger? That's where Alan Ryan works as a detached youth worker in Co Monaghan.

Alan works as part of a programme which aims to engage vulnerable and socially-excluded young people where they choose to congregate.


So, how does he find working with young people on the streets?

"I love that you go out, and you don't know who you are going to meet," Alan says.

"Usually it's Friday evening that we are out... we wouldn't start until seven o'clock at night... and then finish around 12 o'clock.

"On the quiet nights you might finish around 11.


"We used to do a Friday and a Saturday night, but we just felt like we were meeting the same people on both nights, and we just felt like they were nearly getting sick of us.

"Normally we do a quick check in just to make sure that staff are available, and we are okay to go out that night.

"We would do a risk assessment before we go out - checking the weather conditions and the type of interactions we may potentially have.

"If people are going to be drunk, or maybe on something else, we would be thinking of that and looking ahead with some of the training we have and how best we can avoid situations.


"Some of the stuff is going into well-lit areas, having our own first aid kits, making sure the torch we have is working and that the batteries are charged."

Making assumptions

Working together, Alan says there is usually a man and a woman as part of the detached team who go out to meet young people. However, they are not always welcome.

"When we first meet people there's always an assumption," he says.

"Because I am big, and I've a more southern accent they usually think I'm a guard.


"I have to reassure them that I'm not part of the undercover Garda or something like that.

"We just introduce ourselves as youth workers, and if we feel that they are engaging we will keep talking to them but if they don't we just sort of go 'look we will leave you to your night'.

"We usually see them the following week and then through that repetition of meeting them all the time we can build a relationship, but we have been told 'move on' or 'not tonight' so we kind of take the lead from young people themselves.

"It's not just us putting ourselves in there and staying there.


"It all depends on the level of engagement, if they talk to us and tell us about their personal stories, or their life, or it could just be a general conversation about sports or movies, we will spend anything from five [minutes] to half an hour with them."

'A bit out of hand'

Working in the Co Monaghan area, there are several different places where Alan and his co-workers might go to engage with young people.

"There [are] known spots that we know young people are going to be at and, generally, they are there most weeks as well," Alan says.

"Depending on the weather there could be more sheltered spaces that they go to but a lot of those places, I think the gardaí and the people that own them have actually made them less accessible.

"There was part of the HSE health centre grounds that [young people] used, but now they have a security service that is there on a Friday night.

"So they have actually used that to move young people on because there was just a couple of incidents where windows got broke... so I suppose they just got kind of sick of it.

"It's very rare that we see something illegal as such, we have come upon young people who are under the influence, but we've never actually seen them taking the drugs or, you know, they would never actually smoke anything in front of us.

"If there is something illegal we do have to report it... we are bound by the natural laws.

"There have been times when we have come across incidents where the young people were too drunk maybe, and we have a fear that they are going to endanger themselves.

"So we might have moved away from the group, so they can't see us and maybe rang the guards.

"I have rang them before and asked 'could you just do a drive by? I think the guys are getting a bit out of hand and if they see you coming around they might just walk on or walk home instead of getting into trouble'.

"Or I've seen fights where I've had to call the guards.

"What we usually do at the end of the night is, we have a little check in with the staff who were out.

"If I am working with someone I would say 'if there is anything that happened tonight just let me know or if you felt uncomfortable in any situation' so we can change it for the next week.

"If we are out and any of us feel uncomfortable, we have a little phrase that we can say to each other that means 'let's move on from this situation, I don't feel comfortable here'.

"People always wonder do you ever feel unsafe when you go out?

"There has never been once when I felt unsafe talking to the young people, they treat you with respect."

Making change

Despite young people not always being open to help, Alan tries to give advice to them when the opportunity arises.

"It's hard to reach young people themselves if they don't engage with services, there is no other way to engage with them.

"They are not going to come to some event if you advertise it.

"The only way you are going to link in with them or meet them is if you actually go and meet them.

We don't go out with an agenda or anything like that.

"The idea of us being detached is to keep meeting them and build a relationship with them.

"If they want to make a change themselves, we can actually [advise them]... if they are looking for an apprenticeship we can help them find one, help them with CVs or anything like that.

"We are kind of like an information service as we are walking around, we know a mix of everything.

"[I] love that engagement with them, having a bit of banter and craic. It's something different every night, it's never the same.

"Sometimes you go out and think, are we actually doing anything for these young people?

"That's the nature of it... but if you can help one person and that makes them feel better it's quite rewarding."

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