These young men, they're not gangsters. They're not thugs. In fact, they're really valuable members of our community.–Kieran West, Banyule Youth Services
Kieran started out as a secondary school teacher in the western suburbs of Melbourne, but he felt that as a teacher, he was limited by the rigidity of the curriculum in being able to address some of the barriers his students faced.
“I was working at some pretty at risk schools and working with young people who were disengaged from their education. A lot of these people would get expelled, or become disengaged further from education. And my engagement with them would completely stop.
“After that, I became a youth worker. And I still see myself as an educator. But there's so much more flexibility in the way that I'm able to interact with people. I can create learning environments for young people on their terms.”
Youth work matters to Kieran because he believes early intervention works and is key to supporting young people achieve their goals. His programs predominantly involve working with young men in street art, hip hop music, 1-on-1 case work and broader community engagement.
“A lot of the young people I work with young men from disadvantaged backgrounds, and it's a really great opportunity for the wider community to see that these young men, they're not gangsters. They're not thugs. In fact, they're really valuable members of our community.”
Kieran has been able to support young people to achieve their goals.
“When we were deep in the COVID lockdowns, I was working with a young man providing individual support. And he was extremely isolated, he came from a refugee background. And before COVID, his main source of support were his friends. He was also living with a disability, so he didn't have access to the support any anymore.
I worked with him on a long-term case basis. And through my work with him, I was able to break down those barriers of those cultural taboos. He opened up to me about his significant anxiety and depression, and I was able to link him and his family in with support services and mental health support, as well as family support. Now both him and his partner are in full time work, and they have another baby on the way.”
COVID has presented significant challenges for young people, particularly for young people in transition years from primary school to high school or from school to work.
As a youth worker, I'm often the first person that they've spoken to about their mental health concerns.–Kieran West, Banyule Youth Services
“I'm often the first person that they've spoken to about their mental health concerns. They often don't feel comfortable speaking with family or friends, and I'm able to talk and meet with them on terms that suit them best and link them in with appropriate mental health services.”
He believes young people and Victoria would be a better place if we invested more in early intervention and prevention services like youth work.
“Young people deserve to have a trusted adult in their lives. Someone who they can connect with, someone who listens to them, and someone who helps them achieve the goals that they want to achieve in life."
Kieran shared his story as part of YACVic's Youth Work Matters campaign. Find out more about the campaign here.