History of Youth Support
Youth Support was born in 1986 out of a need to provide a service for teenagers and support to schoolgirl mothers and the first Youth Support publication on schoolgirl pregnancy Are you my sister, Mummy? came out in time for our first meeting. The statutory services - health , education and social services were not catering for this age group and there was a danger that the medical services particularly were dividing care into paediatrics - i.e. childrens services; and adult services with adolescents and young adults falling in the wasteland between. The first committee was a group of doctors, nurses and education and social work staff from the Lambeth and Southwark area of south London - but we soon acquired colleagues from other parts of the country and further afield .. by the time our Forum was started in 1987 we had links with Bristol, Liverpool, Scotland and International members from Ireland, Sweden, France, Russia and Jamaica. Later our international work took off in a big way and it would currently be impossible to fully list the countries we have links with or indeed the nationalities of our workers.
The first Youth Support event was the Jamaican benefit fair - held in the empty grounds of disused St Giles Hospital - with bouncy castle, burger grill and Reggae sound system entertaining the locals. We didnt earn much money but we sure had a good time! Jamaica had just suffered severe flooding and there was a need for medical supplies and vaccine for the children. We obtained one thousand doses of polio immunisation from Burroughs Wellcome and antibiotics from Beecham which was sent direct to the ministry of health in Kingston, Jamaica.
It was on this first visit to Jamaica that we made contacts with the �Women�s Centre� for pregnant schoolgirls in Trafalgar Road, Kingston established by Pamela McNeil. The centre concentrated on giving pregnant girls a sense of vocation and emphasised self worth - that they should be proud Jamaican women with a future to look forward to rather than listen to those who would have them believe that having a baby during your school years is the end of the road. The Women�s centre movement has now grow to a very large organisation with centres throughout the island. I was impressed by the expansion of the project over the years which can now provide tuition for any pregnant girl wanting to continue her education. Family planning and counselling clinic sessions have now also been added to the centres.
During the late eighties Youth Support grew slowly while we struggled with the problems of finding premises and funding. There was certainly no lack of young people needing help and the work with young parents continued unabated.
Raising money to help teenagers was an uphill struggle - the public attitude is very much one of - when if they have problems its their own fault .. theyll grow out of it .. or .. blame the parents... A pimply adolescent with a ring in his nose may have been abused and be in genuine need of assistance - but he does not have the appeal of a premature baby when it comes to competitive fund-raising or cute charity advertising. We did get a fair amount of publicity - not all welcome! Are you my sister, Mummy? had very good reviews in the press although the whole atmosphere of the era was coloured by the Gillick affair. When Victoria Gillick took her health authority to court to attempt to stop the provision of contraceptive advice to young people, we found ourselves frequently pitted against her group in the press, TV and radio.
At the same time we were conveying the health education message to the Soviet Union with class discussions and writing competitions - the prizes enabling youngsters to attend schools in London for a few weeks.
Our first major TV programme was Schoolgirl, Mum screened in 1986 on BBC2s '40 minutes, followed in 1987 by Too young to have a baby? - a BBC schools programme which used Susan Tully - playing the then pregnant schoolgirl Michelle in EastEnders as a link person in a sex education film. Both involved our girls. Later Horizon filmed The child mothers in 1989. Many short clips of our young mums and of Youth Support have since appeared on TV news reports and documentaries and chat shows.
The Gillick effect and the counter influence of Schoolgirl Mum and Too young.. formed the basis of a presentation to the International symposium on Adolescent health in Australia 1987. It was at this conference that the International Association for Adolescent Health (IAAH) was born and Youth Support was at the forefront in promoting the cause of adolescent health internationally. Diana Birch (president elect 89-91) and Anne McCarthy were on the committee from the outset resigning in 1991.
On returning from Australia the Youth Support Forum was formed to provide professional support for colleagues working with young people and at the first meeting at the Royal Society of Medicine in September 87 we were joined by speakers - Paul Griffiths - who had just been setting up Child Line and Fay Hutchinson from the Brook Advisory centres, Anne McCarthy came over from Ireland and Daniel Hardoff provided a perspective from Israel.
Eventually we discovered that one of the mother and baby homes catering for some of our pregnant schoolgirls was facing probable closure. We offered to take it over and the landlords (the Church Moral Aid Association) were supportive and fortunately did not demand a capital investment . we were allowed to take on the building on the strength of the reputation of the work with young parents.
The housewarming was new years eve 1989 - during which our first residents arrived .. a party of 36 Russian pupils, and their teachers from Sverdlovsk in the Urals. We had many Russian visitors during the next few years and also organised visits to Russia for London teenagers and exchange visits for professionals. The Russian visitors built the playground equipment including our play Dacha (Wendy house) ; Are you my sister, Mummy? has been translated into Russian and we have done work with runaways and homeless youth and teenage parents. We also set up a scheme to bring gifted students to British Universities and were assisted in this by Kingston University who gave us three places for our students. Our most successful student has been Boris Slobodkin who obtained a first class honours degree - many congratulations!
The first items of furniture in the house were donated or obtained cheaply second hand but some of the items were bought with money raised by our first Catford charity dog night - this raised just under �4,000 in October 1989 - it was so successful that we repeated the event in September 93 when we raised over �6,000 for our video assessment unit and a third event in May 1996 to raise money for our new counselling centre in Penge.
The Youth Support nursery opened in March 1990 and the residential unit for teenage mothers received it�s first customer in June 1990 By the time we had our official opening in April 1991 we had resident mothers with babies; an alcohol and substance abuse programme; a flourishing nursery plus after school children, professional teaching courses and outpatient therapy and education was beginning to take off. The opening was very successful with a fete in the grounds, a little blessing service led by Canon Leslie Virgo at which the children held animal glove puppets and sang the St Francis song brother Sun and sister Moon; ribbon cut by Roger Tonkin from Vancouver with Bouncy castle eminently blown up by Professor Richard McKenzie from Los Angeles. We were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
The advent of the Childrens Act implemented on 14th October 1991 extended the scope of the unit and began the family work. Our residential unit changed to cater for whole families and took a wide age range - so many young mums are not referred in the early stages due to funding cuts .. they are then sent several years along the line perhaps with a third child or toddlers who are giving her problems or when the family is breaking down .. a short sighted approach. The treatment side of dealing with substance abuse and alcoholism has become very important and we have catered for mothers with learning disabilities and a multitude of problems. Abuse, the sequelae and the continuing problems for the family are a focus in many referrals. We have also taken as residents single young people who need therapy - particularly in the area of sexual abuse. There were many months when we were full to capacity and had a waiting list .. the outreach work is also at full tilt and we will soon have to open Youth Support Two. We have grown from a staff of a dozen people to over sixty people including five therapists - all due to the commitment of those early people.
We have had help from a number of sources - the Princes trust who gave us £2,000 for a computer for the schoolroom - The Minet trust who gave £3,000 for our first outreach programme and Barclays Bank who gave £2,500 towards the new kitchen in the school room which allows the residents to run a lunch club for local elderly - a scheme designed to give youth the idea that they are useful to the community - can give something back .. and it also has aspects of adopt a gran for those without an extended family to relate to.
Life in the unit is different every day - excitement as when a disoriented girl hovered on the window sill three floors up thinking she could fly .. or danger when one set fire to her room ... pleasure when children planted some flowers in the front garden for me ... embarrassment when they turned out to be stolen from the church next door ... pain when a young mother loses hope .. joy with each new baby and with each family able to walk out of the door to a life together in the community.