From Cautions and Custody to Classrooms and Collaborations
2021 is upon us and whilst much stays the same with COVID-19 lingering, this year marks a significant change in my career as a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT).
My sliding doors moment took place on the day I handed in my notice as an NHS clinician to make the move to academia. This same day, I found out that my hard work as a lead SLT in a youth offending team (YOT) had finally paid off. Funding had just been secured with NHS England that day, making the band 7, 6 and 4 posts permanent after submitting monthly evidence to prove we were making a difference. My goal, since developing the service from scratch had finally been achieved, the funding was going to continue. This should have been very exciting and a part of me felt ecstatic, but the overriding feeling was one of confusion. I fell silent at the news delivered by my manager and pondered whether I was now making the right decision to leave. My manager, sensing the hesitation, commented that I was able to retract my notice. I now felt conflicting emotions and had a decision to make - To YOT or not? Should I remain a clinician to see the project through its next stages, or should I take the steeper learning curve into academia as a Senior Lecturer, a position much less familiar to me but one that had interested me for a while.
The SLT YOT role brought tricky multi-disciplinary decisions, safeguarding incidents and conflicting demands. It brought painstaking clinical decisions which needed to withstand scrutiny in court, schools and amongst professionals in order to advocate for young people. There were constant battles around proving that behaviour is a form of communication, and that young people were not lazy or badly behaved. Leaving this emotionally and clinically challenging work behind sounds appealing but it was a privileged position. I was able to work alongside the most vulnerable young people in Bradford, many of whom had experienced hardship, trauma, poor mental health and a lifetime of having their needs misunderstood. Their desire to make changes and learn to advocate for themselves was an inspiration, and working as part of a team to help them on this journey was the most rewarding feeling. It was a warm feeling seeing a young person develop confidence in new life skills and ultimately end their journey along the school to prison pipeline.
After considering which path to take, my decision in the end was a simple one. I would embrace the new challenge, as the biggest risk for me would be to not take the risk at all. It was not a proper goodbye to the area of youth justice as my new role would enable me to share my passion and knowledge on a wider scale. I would be leaving safe in the knowledge that my experience would hopefully spark interest in the field amongst students and help contribute towards research.
In my new role, I hope to help students recognise the highly rewarding nature of working with people with social, emotional and mental health needs. I would also like to tackle the stigma around these types of roles being something to fear. I will be able to bring some moving patient journeys to inspire students as well as some unique SLT experiences. For example, using visuals to assess understanding of consent and explain the consequences of burglary, and creating accessible health information (i.e. Googling and drawing out the pros and cons of different types of contraception!). I will enjoy exchanging tips on how to build rapport quickly with young people and their families, and how to take a co-produced approach in their work.
Although my former role sounds niche, it required mastering a range of clinical specialisms from basic speech and language disorders to brain injury, hearing impairment, learning disability, autism and stammering. The contexts in which these disabilities occurred were also complex, including substance misuse, trauma and attachment needs, school exclusions, safeguarding and mental health. I therefore also hope to bring some more general life skills for students such as the importance of collaborating with others and braving new techniques to help achieve the best outcomes possible, as well as encouraging them to think on their feet and remind them it is okay to think ‘outside the box’ if needed. These approaches are not isolated to youth justice and so I hope they will inspire students in whatever path they decide to take in their careers. This role has also taught me the importance of having a sense of humour and maintaining strong relationships with colleagues, through often challenging times. I hope to bring these values to both the staff and student teams at Leeds Beckett.
Just like the PPE that COVID-19 has brought us, I will doff the speech and language assessments, multi-agency meetings and court reports and look forward to donning the PowerPoints, video conferencing and breakout rooms. As I start the learning curve, I plan to lean on the resourcefulness and creativity that my role in youth justice has ingrained in me, and I look forward to building relationships with my fantastic new team members who have already offered me lots of support.