What are good spaces?
Consider some spaces you have recently been in. Perhaps you went to cosy café, with warm light, soft music and the familiar smell of coffee, tea, and scones: a space that focuses on comfort. Perhaps you went to a train station, with white light, clear signs and generally a space that prioritises functionality. Very often, we walk into a space or spend time somewhere without actively noticing the environment, it is information that stays in the background. A good environment especially, is something we rarely notice (unless it stands out!). Negative aspects are more likely to go notices, for example, the flickering light, the broken chair, or the cold room.
These aspects of an environment can really affect our inner feelings and thoughts.
How do spaces affect us?
That spaces affect us is not something new, in spy movies it is often mentioned how a cold room and uncomfortable chair is uses as an interrogation technique – to mention a strong example. But of course, even in less intense environments we need to consider how a space affects us. There are emotional effects and physical effects. The physical effects are perhaps easier to name feeling too hot, too cold, pain or comfort and warmth. Emotionally, the effects are harder to name. For this it is important to understand that the design of a space makes presumptions about the user of the space. To name an extreme example: If you think about the use of blue light in public bathroom, It makes the presumption that some users might use it for drug consumption. A less strong example is using plastic crockery: it assumes that the user might break the item. Of course, sometimes this presumption might be useful, if it shows the knowledge about the user. It would be reasonable, for instance, to use plastic cups with toddlers, as they are likely to break something. But not all presumptions are positive.
Some examples of physical spaces that the Advisory Group have highlighted as making negative assumptions are:
How can you create a relational space?
Are there any aspects in the environment you work in that make assumptions about the user?
Sometimes, certain aspects about the physical environments cannot be changed. But it is important to aware of them and to address them with the young people you work with.
Consider speaking to the young people in the service to identify elements of the physical space that are not ‘homey’ or that stand out as ‘not usual’.
After these items are identified, discuss what would need to change. At this stage it is important to be realistic and transparent on what can be achieved and when.
Beyond creating a comfortable space, it is also important to consider furniture and decoration from a perspective of disabilities and trauma.
Some disabilities make certain textures and colours difficult to handle, if you work with young people who have disabilities, consider their needs.
Further, you might work with young people who previously experienced trauma and who need help with emotion regulation. Some organisations identify ‘risks’ and try to mitigate them with safety measures that would usually not exist in a private home. If there are locks on cabinets, doors, etc. – reflect with your co-workers and with young people, whether these are truly needed or whether there are alternatives which do not make presumptions of the behaviour of young people.
Relationships are an important part of everyone’s life. For example, everything we learn as children depends on others teaching us. But did you know that good relationships also have an influence on our physical and mental health (Griffith, 2017)? Relationship-based practice combines what we know about childhood development, trauma, resilience, and relationships to promote the best for children and adolescents.
Early life experiences shape our mind and body in ways that we are understanding more and more, especially when these experiences are traumatic. Trauma-informed practice takes this knowledge and creates a holistic framework for practitioners and organisations to create healing and safe spaces and ways of working.
First introductions matter. It matters when, how and where they happen. Many young people speak about transitions are often the most difficult times. In this Guide we explore how transitions can be done from the lens of relational practice.
What do IT systems and relationships have in common? Both usually run in the background and are easily taken for granted. Perhaps surprisingly, IT systems can have a big influence on the quality of relationships and relational practice in general.
When you know your goal you do whatever you need to do to reach it. But what if you defined the goal in the wrong way? In this Guide we explore how the goal affects your actions and how you can make sure that you are measuring your success in the right way. Are you meeting an outcome or are you filling a need?
One of the first things you learn when you start your job is when you need to arrive and when you need to leave. Have you ever considered that the pattern of your work affects the relationships you are building?
Organisational values influence the working culture. They can inspire workers to follow the organisation's mission. However, for them to have an impact they need to be developed with staff and young people.
It is important to keep learning and growing. Recognise your staff’s value and expertise by developing internal training and discussion sessions. Enable staff to learn and train more. Training should not be a tick-box exercise but a place for growth and reflection.
As is often said, hurt people hurt people – it is even more important to consider the flipside: supported people support people. Working with young people and caring for them can be a demanding role, especially in under-resourced and stressful environments. A truly relational organisation also invests in the relationships between managers and staff, creating a positive environment for everyone.
Relationships do not just depend on one person, but rather on a network of people and the culture of an organisation. Sometimes one person who simple ‘doesn’t get it’ can put barriers in the way for an entire team to become less relational. So, it’s easy to see why recruiting the right people is so important to create and maintain a relational organisation.
All relationships take time and effort to build and develop relationships with young people with care experience is no exception, perhaps being even more difficult due to their backgrounds however with the right understanding and approach you could develop a strong and positive connection which will benefit both you and your young person.
Relationships are essential to all parts of life and encompass both our professional and personal lives. They are a vital part of the support networks for our young people and the stronger the relationship the better we can all do our jobs, perhaps making them feel less like a job and more like a vocation. And perhaps more importantly, the stronger the relationship the more important a young person might feel.