RJ and Young People: An Interview With Jack Kelley

Monday 19th November 2018

Jack Kelley was previously Employability Manager at Queen’s Park Rangers Football Club in London, and is now Employer Engagement Manager at Westlea School in Enfield. He works with vulnerable young people in the London area.

Jack undertook training with Restorative Solutions three years ago and he says it changed his life and his work. He spoke to Restorative Solutions about the difference that their training made to his professional practice, and why Restorative Justice is key to his skill set; working with young people.

How did you find out about RJ and what made you get involved?

I was working for QPR in the community in the White City and Shepherd’s Bush area, running community outreach projects with disadvantaged young people. I was working with many young offenders who were being referred to us by the Youth Offending Service and the Police. One of our key activities was to put on football sessions in local estates to reduce antisocial behaviour.

I found that many coaches were going in with coaching skills, but without the skills to manage conflict, or to address the needs of the young people that we were working with. As such, we recognised that we needed up upskill our coaches so we went on a three day RJ practitioner training course in Kensington, and I have to say it changed my life!

Why was RJ training so useful?

The community coaches absolutely loved the training - they saw the value in it immediately as it gave them the skills they needed to work in difficult situations. They had realised that they needed more skills to help the young people they were working with and RJ really gave them a huge toolkit of strategies to use.

The RJ training made our coaches more confident with dealing with difficult situations and it can be applied to almost any situation. It gave both me and our coaches the language and the tools to resolve issues and resolve conflict, too. This was especially true with the work that we were doing in prisons with young people.

What does RJ actually do and how does it work?

RJ gives you the language skills to be able to start to ask the right questions to get to the bottom or crux of an issue. This helps you to engage with young people, and it gives you a start and an end point in terms of knowing where you want to get to with a young person. RJ also gives youth workers a lot of confidence in how to deal with tricky situations.

I found that the listening skills that I learned were really key to this - allowing silence (and having the confidence to allow silence) helps young people to talk.

Can you give us some examples of how RJ has helped you work with young people?

I was working with a young person whose family was referred to us by social services. Mum didn’t want to engage and they were in danger of family breakdown. The son was going off the rails and wasn’t going to school. He was angry at his mum and leaving home for days at a stretch. His schoolwork was failing. The daughter was 13 and extremely vulnerable. We suspected that she was at risk of grooming and CSE.

I was able to sit with this family in a nice environment at the Football Club and talk out the issues that were going on. RJ gave me both the tools and the confidence to help this family to talk openly and honestly about what was going on in their lives.

Facilitating this conversation by managing interruptions, letting each person speak and have their say, and ensuring that they were really listening to one another helped them to build empathy between themselves and allowed them to being to respect each other a bit more.

Things weren’t perfect but, after five sessions, the boy started attending school again and, after two weeks of staying with his Nan, he came home to live with Mum again. Their relationship was a lot more stable and they understood each other better.

By using RJ behaviours to help them, they were able to communicate, listen and empathise with each other to improve their lives and stay together as a family. My RJ training absolutely came to the fore in this session, and it was one of the moments when I realised how valuable it was.

Another example of working with RJ was a really tricky case.

I was referred a young man from East London. He’d been convicted of rape and both parties in the case were minors. He’d been kicked out of college and had nowhere to go. He was a NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) but he was too young to join an employability programme.

He was remorseful - but only on the surface. He felt that he’d ruined his life and his relationship with his Mum.

Using RJ, I was able to engage this young man to face up to his actions, and make him feel a bit better by actually talking through what had happened. He was able to start thinking more empathetically about his victim, which culminated in a big meeting with Mum, Dad, a Youth Offending Team worker and me, to facilitate an open and honest discussions about what happened and how each person felt.

The young man was in tears by the end of it and this helped the Youth Offending Team worker to understand that he was genuinely remorseful. The Youth Offending Team was then able to develop some empathy for this young person, which helped him to start to recover from what had happened and to rebuild his life. He was accepted onto a programme so that he could attend college, and he started to behave in a more positive way. I can’t help feeling that, although he had been convicted of an extremely serious crime, if he hadn’t been able to address his emotions and behaviour about it, he would have wasted his life. RJ was extremely useful in helping him to work out a way forward.

Grenfell Soccer School

I was working on a project at the Grenfell soccer school (for people who had been affected by the Grenfell Fire) and two kids started messing around and then fighting. I pulled them apart and, using my RJ training, I got them to talk to each other calmly and sensibly. This minimised the incident from escalating into something more serious.

Open and honest conversations between young people are absolutely key in making youth sessions work well. At Grenfell, we encountered a lot of behaviour issues and RJ techniques enabled the coaches to work in such a way that they weren’t having to send kids home (which had happened previously), but meant that we could talk out issues, shake hands, and keep them in the programme, getting them to focus on the football.

Football in Harlesden

On some estates in Harlesden, there is a lot of gang related activity and drugs. We were working there to put on football sessions in these estates so that young people would have something positive to do.

There is inevitably conflict in football because there are tackling and teams - but as soon as young people got injured they were tending to start fighting. Using RJ, coaches were able to deal with this positively; rather than sending them home, they could engage, talk to the young people, build up trust, resilience, and relationships. This stuff really lasts so it’s not just a game of football - it’s about building relationships on an estate that is marred by crime and violence.

We have also found that we can deliver counselling on a football pitch to young people who are in danger of being excluded. Our RJ training helps us and gives us another set of vocabulary and tools to engage young people.

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