Did you knock on my door? Did you want to see? Or was the sterile incomplete description in my report enough for you? Or what your colleague told you over the kettle? Or what my social worker told you over the phone?
You want to see what my life is like. You ask me in your appointment room, in the cafe or in detention, to tell you what life at home is like. But why should I bother to tell you? Do you really want to see? Your words tell me you don’t cos if you really wanted to know, you wouldn’t ask, you’d come and see.
Even if I try and tell you without you coming to look, you wouldn’t get to see it all. You’d be seeing it only through my eyes. You wouldn’t find out about the things that I don’t even notice any more and wouldn’t think to mention. The abnormal that has become my normal. The holes in the walls and the doors that tell of anger, the smell of alcohol and weed that clings to the curtains, the rubbish strewn everywhere. Or my Mum and Dad at the door, determined not to let you in. Or the grubby little sister with the matted hair and the rotten teeth. Or my Mum on her own, full of care and concern but struggling to manage life, let alone me. Or the foster carer that gives me a roof but clearly no more.
Or you might see a well kept home or a home with more luxuries than our family income should allow. You might see a mantelpiece with pictures of everyone but me, or a photo of someone that died that I can’t bear to mention. Or an almost forgotten sibling whose name is never voiced, cos he’s doing time.
You might see some people pop round- the regular visit of the well known offender or the group of older kids that hang around right outside my door. Or you might just see that my home life seems pretty ‘normal’. Either way, there’s so much to see.
Visual clues are everything and if you limit those clues to just looking at me, you are never going to really see me, my life, my family, my circumstances. The visual provides no place to hide- it provides prompts to conversations, it opens the eyes of your heart and leads you to ask the right questions, to begin to ‘get’ me and why I do what I do. Like what might be influencing me, who might be ignoring me, who frightens me or annoys me. The stuff of relationships, the stuff of my life.
In some ways I ‘get’ that you probably don’t particularly want to come and see my life in its rawness, particularly if it’s dirty and it’s smelly. Which is all the more reason to do it. It shows me you care, that you are interested in me, that you care enough to see beyond the dirt- you really want to connect with me. You’ll experience discomfort in your pursuit of my happiness.
I know the voice in your head- ‘I’m not going to that God-forsaken place if I don’t have to!’. Well I’m glad you have that choice, I don’t. This is where I live. If you care, you’ll come.
‘I’m too busy. I just don’t have the time’. Please don’t kid yourself. You’ll learn more about me and connect with me (and with my parents and carers) more in one home visit than you could in ten times as many conversations in your cosy world. And connection means everything to me. Yes it requires more effort from you, but the benefits far outweigh the cost. If you really want to see me and help me, this you have to do.
I get it, you’re scared. You don’t know what you will find- ‘normal life’ or uncomfortable hell, and what do you do if you see things you don’t want to see? You’re tired, you’re overworked, you don’t have the energy to deal with what might be behind the door and the emotional response you might have to it. So you roll down the shutters and you don’t come. And you wonder why I don’t engage with you? It’s because you didn’t engage with me and my life.
It’s the fear of the unknown. It can haunt you as much as it haunts me. I’m scared to make changes in my life cos I don’t know what they’ll look like, whether I can do it, whether I have the strength. And if you want me to pluck up the courage to give it a go, then you need to show me what doing something different, something out of the ordinary or expected looks like. Show me how brave and deep our internal strength can be. Knock on my door.
You’ll learn that things aren’t as scary as they seem, that being afraid of the unknown is scarier than giving it a go and knowing. That the street that I live on is not going to pounce and devour you like you think it will, that the sofa you sit on is not going to eat you, that most doors are opened rather than slammed in your face. You’ll see the humanity rather than the scare stories, the people amidst the hardship. So the outcome is usually better than expected and even when it is worse, you’ll know you did the right thing. You reached out. You tried to connect with me, with my life.
We’ve both just got to face the unknown and make it known, remove the debilitating fear that prevents us from pushing ourselves forwards, from connecting, from changing. We’re more alike than you realise, you and me.
You’re the adult, not me, so I ask that you take the first step and show me the way to overcome the fear of the unknown. You lead and I’ll be more likely to follow. Just knock on my door and I’ll show you my life.
N.B. In a very small number of cases it is genuinely unsafe to make home visits to some young people due to issues such as dangerous dogs, previous violence towards professionals or because it is a drugs den. If in doubt, consult your line manager.
In these cases you clearly can’t knock on their own personal front door. In which case, knock on the front door of their community- meet the young person somewhere in their community, like a diner or in the park. Just reach out to them, where they live, in whatever way you can.
And as a matter of course with all out-of-office visits, always make sure that someone knows where you are and when you are expected to be finished, and call them when you are done. This is belt-and-braces keeping yourself safe, but please don’t let it perturb you from knocking the door in the first place.