I always walked away by City of Dublin Youth Service Board (CDYSB)

Context of Author

CDYSB is a sub-committee of the City of Dublin Education and Training Board


Republic of Ireland


This is the story of one young man’s personal journey from adolescent drug misuse to professional youth / project worker on the north side of Dublin City. David (not his real name) reflects on the role youth work has played in his voyage of personal recovery and a new found sense of personal and professional well-being.

Story in Full

My personal experience of youth work is my life’s story and begins when I was six or seven years old. As a child I lived in the south inner city and every Wednesday night my Dad took me to the local youth project where he volunteered as a leader. Despite the fact they appeared to have no relationship with the adults, there was an endless number of young people every week. I suppose the project was a base for them, something to do, somewhere to go.

Move to the Suburbs

When I was 12 I moved out to a suburb on the north side of the city. Within weeks of moving I called over to the local youth project where all the young people seemed to gather. My initial impression of the place was similar to a ‘free for all’. There was an impatient, wild queue of about 100 plus young people of different age ranges eagerly waiting outside as there no was real age restrictions on who could enter. We paid our 10p at the door and the next two hours were complete mayhem. Pool cues and pool balls were flying past people’s heads; it was off the wall, crazy, no kind of management or structure. Despite the fact there were probably 15/16 adult volunteers, some nights ended with the Guards being called, taking young people from the building and locking it down. Then our protests outside, ‘we want our 10p back’, between the Guards and our protests we would regularly lose out on an hour of the club. At the time it was taken for granted that if you stepped out of line you got a clout! When you compare that with youth work today… but at the time it all seemed so normal, we’d feel like we deserved it if we got caught. But looking back, I realise now how little respect there was between the adults and the young people.

When I was 16, I started to ‘volunteer’ as a Junior Leader; I use the term ‘volunteer’ loosely! I only did it because I’d get an extra half an hour in the hall to play football before the rest of the group came up. I didn’t want to be a volunteer or a youth worker, I was just happy to have half an hour in the hall to kick a ball around. Then all we’d do was play football with the lads who came in, I had no notions of getting involved in youth work at that stage.

New Youth Workers

I remember the night that the two new paid youth workers (not volunteers) walked in. I along with the other young people felt that we owned the building and that we had a say about who came into it. Who were these guys? We were introduced to them and they made arrangements for us to come in and meet them in small groups. By that time I had started to hang about with a much larger group of about 14 or 15 boys, so we came to our meeting in a gang and the new ‘staff’ allocated us our own group in the new programme. They asked us about our interests and seemed pretty positive about most of the activities we wanted to do.

As a younger teenager I always had a problem with adults. I think this mostly came from school. I still can’t recall one teacher that said one good thing to me for the whole of my school life. Nothing constructive or useful ever happened with adults, whether it’d be in schools, football teams, or the clubs. But these two new ‘youth workers’ were different. They introduced us to a different kind of working relationship. I still have contact with lads who attended that group and they all kind of say the same thing. They treated us differently, respectfully; it made such a difference to us as young people.

Growing Addiction

Before I turned 17, I’d started to experiment with drugs and things gradually got worse for me, but it wasn’t just me using drugs, there was a bit of a craze going on across Dublin communities at the time. I disappeared for a couple of months, hanging around in different circles. Sometime later the youth workers discovered I was regularly using ‘Class A’ drugs. No sooner had they found out but one of them was at my front door. They wanted to know if there was anything they could do for me. They would become the first adults that I would speak to about my growing addiction. I continued talking to one of the youth workers in particular about my personal circumstances. Available factual information on the drugs I was using was zero; it was all based on street talk. But the information they gave me was invaluable. I still remember some of the things they said then, many years on. Little would I know how important the relationship with them was, that it would have that kind of life long lasting effect.

I was in and out of the house all the time. On one particular occasion my parents asked the youth worker I confided in if he would consider travelling into town to look for me? So taking one of my friends with him, the youth worker came looking for me. As I look back, I realise now that someone actually took the time to go out searching for me, but I didn’t really appreciate it then.

Being in and out of home would continue to be a real pattern for me for the next three years until I eventually left altogether. Always by choice because of rows and stuff like that, I always walked away. I continued on that destructive path for a good 6 or 7 years until I was well into my early twenties. Towards the end of all the madness I went into drug rehabilitation for about a year.

Return to the Youth Project

The first place I came to after I came out was not surprisingly back down to the youth project. The drugs worker I had gotten to know before I left was to become a significant support in my integration back into a ‘normal’ life style. Eventually the subject of what I was going to do next came up. I was working, but in a job that meant nothing to me. I did want a college education, but I certainly didn’t know what I wanted to study. It was at this point that ‘youth work’ was mentioned but I thought I wouldn’t be into doing it. I went home thought about it some more and considered a range of other things but the seed was planted, youth work!

In the early 2000’s I went to College and started studying and by the time I finished I pretty much walked out of the College into a youth work job. It was definitely strange at first, because I’d obviously picked up a name around the streets as a drug user, and now to be going from one extreme to the other, it was a bit alien to me and felt strange at first.

Success Stories You Don’t Get To Report

Youth work was the easiest job in the world for me, all I needed to do was treat young people with respect, keep the relationship professional and speak and listen to young people with empathy. With these qualities as the basics everything else just falls into place. For years it was easy to get onto the same level as young people, it was easy to relate to them. However, as I got older and my own kids got older I could feel the generation gap starting to creep in, at this stage I started to get involved with Drug Services and today I am a Drugs Project Worker.

I still meet young people I worked with who are adults themselves now and every one of them likes to re-tell a memory or experience they had down the youth project. I love seeing the young people I had concerns about years ago now walking down the road with their kid, heading to work or any kind of good news about them. These are the kind of success stories you don’t get to report as you’re always reporting on whatever group or young person you’re working with at the time. Being a teenager is one of the toughest periods of any body’s life and having trustworthy adults around you at that time is invaluable.

Positive Working Relationships

I’ve just finished doing a facilitators training course in personal development, and all I kept thinking throughout the whole training programme was; why didn’t I have these kinds of programmes when I was 13 or 14? It’s hard to say how much such a course would have made a difference for me as a young teenager, but I feel I would’ve been better equipped to manage and cope with the challenges life presented. We’ve been doing drugs awareness for years and all that kind of stuff, but really it comes down to self-esteem and confidence. I think there should be an awful lot more of that in schools, followed up by youth projects. I would definitely see it as a positive way forward.

One of the most satisfying things about my job now is to see a 24 or 25 year old come back to the project looking for support, no matter how big or small their issue it’s an indication that they see the service you offer is a support and that there is someone in the centre that can do something for them. The fact that young adults still feel after years of no involvement with the project that they still have a right to come back and ask for that help is a sign of a good positive working relationship. A relationship that is respectful and supportive and similar to the one Youth Work offered me. The one that can make such a difference!


Youth Works: True Stories from Youth Work Practice and Provision, City of Dublin Youth Service Board. 2012

The full publication can be accessed on the CDYSB website in the publications section www.cdysb.ie


John Farrelly, Development Officer CDYSB, e-mail: john.farrelly@cdysb.cdetb.ie