Arran Louttit – an Advanced Practitioner working on the Adolescent Team in Hillingdon – spoke with us about the power of relationship-based practice and his team’s creative approach to tackling exploitation

As an Advanced Practitioner working within an Adolescent Team in Hillingdon, Arran specialises in working with vulnerable young people who are often at risk of going missing, being groomed or exploited. Being part of the team has given Arran opportunities to apply some creative new ideas and work with a smaller, more intense caseload, something he has found to be particularly rewarding.

Ensuring that each young person has agency and meaningful involvement is a cornerstone of the relationship-based approach to practice, so Arran and his colleagues have adopted a novel approach to initial engagement. Each social worker has their own ‘profile’ which includes a photo and some personal information (such as likes and dislikes or a funny story) alongside their professional background. The profiles make it easier for each young person to pick which social worker they want to work with, as well as helping to make practitioners more approachable and personable.

"Before our team was set up, these young people were often deemed as hard to engage, but the question was, are we engaging them correctly? We’ve noticed the profiles result in young people wanting to open up to you – because they chose you, they give you that chance."

The chance to come up with creative approaches to the challenges of social work practice was major part of what attracted Arran to the Adolescents Team when it was set up just over four years ago. Because of the organised nature of criminal exploitation and how embedded it can be in the lives of young people, the team has to operate in a different way to what Arran was originally used to: 

"I think the initial challenge for me, coming from traditional social work into this team was that we have to keep young people safe doing what they’re doing, and then work on building the network around them to pull them out. They’re being exploited or groomed, and how do you replace someone getting £500 a week with going into education?"

To counter this, one of the new ideas the Adolescent Team brought in involved giving each practitioner a small budget to spend on activities with the young people they support. This enables social workers to be creative with how they go about building trust, and it has shown some brilliant results. Arran and his team found that going out for something to eat or taking part in a distracting activity together helps young people to feel more at ease in comparison to more formal settings.

"It’s not about just saying ‘I’m coming to your school to sit at a desk with you.’ It’s about saying ‘Let’s go out to Nando’s, let’s go bowling, let’s do an activity together where you’re more likely to feel comfortable… It meant a lot of relationship-based practice could happen, and it prevented a lot of young people from having to go into care."

The Adolescent Team’s enthusiasm for creative practice made them a good fit for the recently launched regional Your Choice initiative, which adopts a public health approach to reducing violent crime among 11-17 year olds. By embedding some core principles taken from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) into social work practice, Your Choice practitioners, supported by regular clinical supervision,  can address the root causes of violence, and support young people in setting and pursuing positive goals. The existing relationship-based model followed by the Adolescent Team has been a key factor in the pilot’s success in Hillingdon, as the team had already put in the groundwork with their young people, who in turn welcomed the new way of looking at behaviour:

"It’s not been a challenge to implement because our young people already want to work with us, so do sign up, they want to engage. It’s given us a model for understanding why they are doing something, and sometimes that can help them to realise someone else is making them do it.

Arran also highlighted the importance of supporting and enabling young people to develop positive, achievable goals, which the CBT-led approach can help to support."

"What we notice is a lot of young people will give us future goals that will take a year or more. One of my young people told me he wants to be a billionaire who owns twelve houses, and that he’s going to give me one of them. So that will be pretty nice! We introduce that principle of thinking ‘Instead, let’s strip it back, and build some smart, achievable targets instead of one big one that might take years to achieve.'"

Another advantage of setting short-term, achievable goals is the impact that reaching these targets can have on young people’s sense of self-worth, which can often be an initial barrier to bigger changes in behaviour.

"I think tangible, small wins make life a lot easier. Especially when kids are so used to things going wrong, and them getting the blame. One of my kids that I’m working with just now, I’ve just told him all he needs to do is get his 10,000 steps a day, so he’s got a smart tracker on his phone."

While Hillingdon’s Adolescent Team has been recognised in a professional context for the impact their work has had on the lives of vulnerable young people, the biggest rewards for Arran as a practitioner are when the young people he supports reach the point where they no longer need intensive support to pursue their own goals and enact positive changes.

"We’ve been recognised as a team, we’ve won two awards. But that’s nothing compared to having a young man not going missing for a whole week, who was previously missing every single day. When you finally get things to click and that young person sees the things they can do and the changes they can make – you’re no longer the person motivating them, they’re self-motivated."

Based on his experiences, Arran’s advice for anyone considering a career in social work is:

"The profession is great. It has its ups, it has its downs, but you’ll meet some amazing, amazing people. Make sure you find out who you want to support, and never forget the ‘why’. The advice that sat with me ever since I was a student at college was from a young man who used a wheelchair. He said to me, ‘The day you see a wheelchair and not me is the day you need to quit.’"

Find out more about working with Arran in Hillingdon, and view their current opportunities

You can also find out about Your Choice here