Standing with Street Children: The Power of Advice and Guidance
An academic's perspective on what it means to stand with a street child
Today is the International Day for Street Children and StreetInvest is marking the day by celebrating the street workers in our network and the life changing work they do. We have been training and supporting street work organisations around the world since 2008 and we know that the empathy, consistency and expertise a street worker brings to the street and to a street child’s life, can make a huge difference.
Gemma’s guest blog gives an insight in her research with street connected children living in Tanzania.
“You know with advice, it can help you massively. Many whom you see in the street they have missed cooperation from their parents so when he sees you [street worker], when you sit and speak to him, he feels like he is with his sister at home, or his mother, with these young’uns at least it comforts.” (Street-living young person, male, Tanzania)
Many of us may remember what it feels like to be a child who at times is misunderstood. The sadness, loneliness and confusion. For children, it can be difficult to express themselves or find someone who will really listen and show an interest. In many instances, family provides this empathetic ear and helps a child to navigate their feelings and frustrations.
For street children, finding someone to listen and to guide is difficult since many people already view them with suspicion. The adults around them may not be safe people. Street children in northern Tanzania are often viewed as the ‘naughty children’, the ones who do not want to stay home and be disciplined. When we sat to listen to these children, we heard a very different story. They told us that they missed love at home, that when they returned for visits, their families didn’t want to listen to what difficulties they had faced on the street and that their concerns were dismissed.
When asked what made them happy, children and young people told us that it made them feel happy when the teacher came to visit them on the street and give them ‘good advice’. They viewed the advice that they received as a way to shape and change their thoughts, providing them with hope of a better future. One young person told us that a street worker is like a parent, but without the conditions, emphasising the uniqueness of the unconditional relationship that street workers offer children and young people:
A teacher is someone who gives you ideas to help you daily, is someone who gives you certain guidelines that if you take them seriously helps you for your own benefit in your life. Which is similar to the parent but with parent they have certain conditions, but the teacher cannot put conditions on you. (Street-living young person, male, Tanzania)
The relationship of unconditional positive regard that underpins the street worker approach is particularly important for children and young people who have been verbally, emotionally or physically abused at home. When conditions are taken out of the relationship and a child is free to express themselves without consequences, then they are able to open up and trust the street worker. Children and young people told us that they were able to accept direction from street workers and that, because of the effort they had made to come and talk to them, they felt that it was easier to listen to street workers’ guidance more than their parents who they felt had failed them.
In an ideal world, there would be no broken families and children would not need to leave home to seek their emotional and physical needs on the street, but we know that this is sadly not the reality. My research in Tanzania found that those children and young people who were able to maintain hopefulness about the future were better able to make decisions that would help them work their way out of street life. The advice and guidance that street workers provide is vital for supporting children and young people’s hopefulness and vision of a different future. If children and young people are to believe in themselves, they first need someone to believe in them. Street workers and trustworthy adults are the cheerleaders that children and young people need if they are to be guided into more hopeful futures.