Have you ever wondered who you are? Struggled to understand where you fit in life? Have you ever taken time out to try and understand who you are and how you fit into the world around you?! Knowing who we are is so important to our social identity and sense of belonging. In my own search to discover who I am, I have certainly had to search long and hard and still I find that I am continuing to wonder who I am and what makes me feel like I belong.
However, as we continue to discover and learn about the impact of social identity, so do the young people we work with. Except, in their search to discover their own identities, they are also faced with their parents/carers, who are not only confused but also struggling to understand their children as they change through adolescents and create and find these new identities.
So why is it then, that when it comes to understanding young people is it so difficult? Why is it as adults that we struggle to relate with the needs of young people to create an image they feel comfortable with? By failing to understand this need and managing it safely, young people continue to be vulnerable to those people who can recognise this and take advantage of how vulnerable young people are at this time – through sexual exploitation, gangs and criminal behaviour and substance misuse.
However, social work continues to engage the most needy of young people in exploring and understanding their behaviour and what makes this risky. With budgets cut and destroyed, a need for early intervention becomes so important. Therefore, understanding Identity becomes a key part of the process in ensuring that this is done effectively – especially where risk factors are increased with parental substance misuse, domestic violence,neglect and physical and sexual abuse. Significantly, with the cost of child care rising many parents are forced to take risks which impact upon their children’s development and, significantly, their identity.
For many young people, this means having to grow up too fast – wanting to achieve a sense of belonging, whilst also being willing to seek it anywhere. Yet often, adults – especially professionals – fail to explore how vulnerable children fit and feel within their families, leaving them at risk of breakdown and confusion and often, being unskilled in managing these feelings of loss can result in escaping through seeking out other young people with similar beliefs.
Therefore as social workers it is very important to understand identity, and beyond the obvious basic concepts of identity, i.e. ‘White British, Speaks English, does not practise any religion.’ This statement is certainly a missed opportunity in helping any vulnerable young person and preventing them from experiencing abuse, sexual exploitation or substance misuse or joining in gang and criminal activities.