Tiffany Wang (she/her) works with Melbourne City Mission’s Detour and Reconnect early intervention youth homelessness program. She is a youth coach, counsellor and community developer for secondary schools.
Tiffany originally worked in adult homelessness but was led to youth work by hearing many stories of adults whose struggles started when they were young.
Youth work is a smart investment. Early intervention has proven to be key in recognising the signs before the young person leaves the home, before they have the family breakdown.–Tiffany Wang
She recognised that people need more support in the critical transition phase from child to adult, and working holistically with families and other adults in a young person’s life is central to her work.
“The main issue we see within our cohort of young people is family breakdown. This occurs because a young person is emerging into an independent person, and oftentimes that can create a clash with family members, and with parents and carers.
“What we do as youth workers is we elevate the voice of the young person. We help family members and institutions understand that this person is independent from their family—they have their own wants and needs. It’s our job to make sure they’re being heard.”
“For instance, I have a wonderful, bright, empathetic, so emotionally intelligent young person that was falling behind in school. The more I worked with him, the more I realised that he was being parentified at home, which meant that he had all these extra responsibilities that typical 16-year-old people don’t have.
“I realised that I would need to have a conversation with the parents to negotiate family roles and create more time for this young person to devote to their studies.
“Another thing that I helped them with was supporting their studies – so finding and funding a tutor to help them meet their educational goals, liaising with the teachers and the wellbeing officers to make sure that all of those things were happening in conjunction with each other, and that we were all communicating with each other to support this young person.”
Tiffany believes government has an important opportunity to step up and meet the unique needs of young people.
“The biggest challenge facing young people right now is the fact that the government doesn’t recognise the adolescent stage as being so critical for their formation into adulthood.
“We see a clear delineation between someone who’s a child from 17 and under, to someone who’s an adult from 18 and over. However, the adolescent stage in the middle requires more differentiation and support.
“The government needs to recognise that sometimes parents don’t have the best wishes for their children, and that young people need to be able to raise their voices and be separate from their family’s wishes, to support their own wellbeing.”
Tiffany shares the example of a young transgender person she worked with who fled their abusive family situation, where their gender identity was not recognised. Accessing a youth service was critical and transformative for them.
“Some of the work I’ve done with this young person was to find stability in their housing, and to work on their mental health to heal the wounds that they experienced when they were rejected by their family members.
“On top of that, I connected them to community supports because what they needed most of all was a group of people who could accept them and who could celebrate the fact that they were making this brave transition for themselves.
“Currently they are feeling very successful in Melbourne, they have a wonderful community that accepts them for who they are, and loving relationships that can foster independence and help them bloom into an adult.”
Tiffany believes all young people have the right to feel safe, loved, and that someone believes in their full potential. A greater investment in the youth sector could ensure those rights are met for everyone.
“I’m proud to be a youth worker because I’m helping to break the cycle of disadvantage. And I’m doing it at a point in a young person's life where I can really change the trajectory of their future.”
Tiffany shared her story as part of YACVic's Youth Work Matters campaign. Find out more about the campaign here.