Shared challenges, shared approaches

An update from our CEO Chelsea, who is on a Churchill Fellowship. To stay up to date with her learnings, sign up to an occasional newsletter.

Last week, my Churchill Fellowship started with visiting San Diego Youth Services. I met with Steven Jellá, whose service supports between 13,000-18,000 young people a year. They offer 70 different programs (funded through 70 different grants!) and work in a variety of settings including shelters, supported accommodation, schools and street outreach. They start with seemingly small engagements – such as providing food or socks – then introduce young people to other services like their shelters or supported accommodation, where they can access more support and connect to other services.

We spent a lot of time discussing the challenges of addressing mental health issues in children and young people, particularly in the context of cultural change, systems barriers and trauma-informed care. Steven’s experience confirmed the need for approaches that that prioritise individual and ecosystemic needs, and the importance of holistic support services, including case management, mental health and therapeutic interventions. He highlighted the importance of shelters in providing safety and support to youth in crisis, and the limitations of traditional economic models in addressing mental health issues.

A key goal for San Diego Youth Services in supporting young people is to maintain connections to their social networks – their schools, homes, friends etc. However, long-term success seems to really rely on young people connecting with at least one adult worker during their stay. Young people stay around 21 days on average, during which the service connects them with other programs to address their needs – housing, trauma, medical etc. Where possible, the plan involves the entire family. Often, the young person continues to be supported through after care or follow-up services – whatever they need for their ongoing social, emotional and physical wellbeing.

A key factor in the success of the Service is that they involve young people in the design of programs and the spaces – and in the day-to-day evaluation of the program. Steven shared that they have weekly meetings with those involved in the programs to see what’s working and what’s not and that they pay people living in their apartments or involved in the program to give their advice and insights. He also advocated strongly for not applying purely linear thinking and instead taking a systems approach.

Another shared challenge that we identified is the need – and opportunity – for a better model that supports the whole human, as there’s never just one service that a young person, or indeed anyone affected by trauma and violence, will need.

I’m grateful to Steven for making time to meet with me and for being so open and willing to share. His view is that if you don’t pass on the knowledge, it gets lost – which really resonated with me, so I’m hoping that you’ll find some of these insights useful for your work in this space too.