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"Every child needs a trustworthy adult in their life"
Every child needs a trustworthy adult in their life

Dr Thomas de Benitez's 'Listening to Street Children' interview on Radio 4 and its relevance to Street Work

The most important thing for each child was...'who’ was there for them

Dr Sarah Thomas de Benitez, CEO of Consortium for Street Children, recently recorded a piece for BBC Radio 4, titled ‘Listening to street children'. The piece was a timely one for the team here at StreetInvest, as we are into week five of our We were all children campaign, which seeks to illustrate that all children need someone to listen to, value and respect their opinions, something which so many street children lack in their lives. Simple as it may sound, this belief guides the work we do. You can support the campaign by donating here and you can listen to Sarah’s full interview here

Overcoming preconceptions:
Sarah spoke of her experience when establishing JUCONI, explaining that her 
“instinct was to rescue street children and get them off of the streets and to a safe place”however her preconceptions were developed from a “British middle class understanding of childhood”, which didn’t take into account the complexity of street children’s lives. Sarah commented that their breakthrough was to listen carefully and respectfully to children and their families and that it was essential to understand their world from their perspective…and then set small goals together, and work alongside them to reach these goals…putting each child at the centre of their planning to respond to their own particular situations”.   

Understanding the street:
This resonates strongly with us. StreetInvest understands that street children are children and youth for whom the street plays a major role in their lives. Even if a child lives with a parent, relative, friend or guardian and works all day on the street, he/she does not bring that sleeping place to the street; he/she brings the street back to the sleeping place. The ‘street’ constitutes more than the physical realm in which these children interact. It shapes their identities, personalities, social reference, knowledge and understanding of the world. Street children’s lives are diverse and embedded in multidimensional contexts and they hold deep connections with the streets and those within it.

Lots of children exposed to street culture lack self-esteem and don’t believe in a different kind of future. They have spent years on the street being told that they are good for nothing, worthless and should stop begging and get a job. They are treated like dirt. With constant negative impulse on a daily basis, children start believing they don’t have a place within society. With no self-belief, future orientated choices which move you to something different in life are not made. Self-esteem is a foundation on which to further build your life choices on.
 
Understanding the child:
Sarah comments that 
“one careless word or an incident with another young person could result in a child fleeing JUCONI’s house and returning to the street, his point of safety, his powerbase, and his peers, where he could lick his wounds and gather his sense of self”. Sarah states in her 2011 paper, “greater attention must be given to the voices of street children to understand their personalities and their life experiences. Listening to and accepting their views with the intention of responding to the diverse and complex experiences of individual children is vital”. After listening carefully and respectfully to street children, Sarah and her JUCONI team learned and found that the most important thing for each child was not ‘where’ they were, but ‘who’ was there for them”.
 
Where this fits into our model:
StreetInvest’s model is centred on street work. Street work aims to improve the lives of street involved children and it is characterised by the establishment of a trust based relationship between the street worker and child. One of StreetInvest’s street workers commented that 
“only when they know someone who they know they can trust will they start to come to you”. The street worker works in the child’s space, at the child’s pace, nurturing relationships built on compassion, respect, understanding and reliability. The street worker recognises and respects the strength, capacity and individuality of each child and the ability each child has to work out solutions for his/her problems. Through building trust and listening to the child, the street worker can facilitate positive growth and development of a child, a group and/or a community, empowering the child to build self-esteem and use his/her own strength to work out the solutions for his/her life. As stated in the International Guide on the Methodology of Street Work Throughout the World, “wellbeing is not the absence of problems and conflicts; on the contrary it is their acceptance and the ability to overcome them”. The street worker doesn’t impose agendas onto the child, rather, works on the premise that the individual is the true meaning of the intervention and the street worker’s help is only a support for people’s capacities to transform their reality. By forming trusting relationships with a street worker figure under this model, new realisations and possibilities may become clear.

About Sarah: 
Sarah was the director and co-founder of two NGOs for street children in Mexico and Ecuador before becoming one of the world’s leading researchers on street children. She was a lead consultant for the United Nations report and recommendations on street children in 2011.

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