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Interning with Hammersmith and Fulham Youth Offending Team, London by CAPA Study Abroad Alum Mark Bajko

Aug 5, 2013 12:35:00 PM / by Stephanie Sadler

Words by Mark Bajko, a CAPA International Education alum from University of Massachusetts.

He shares his study abroad internship experience below along with a few photos and tells us how he managed to make the most of his time in London.

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Before I departed to study abroad in London, England, as part of the CAPA International Education Program the last thing I thought I would be doing was having an effect on individual lives outside my own. I had friends travelling to nations in Africa and South America to do service work from building houses to teaching children how to read and write so in a way, I felt spoiled to be headed to London.

At first, I viewed the trip like most students probably did: booze laden nights, sight seeing days and extravagant weekend travels to various global cities. The last concerns I had were interning and even less so, classes.

Now six weeks is an incredibly short amount of time to ‘see’ London. In the first days, you are thrown head first into the craziness of classes, interviews, tours and new friends, all while trying to figure out where you are in the world. For my internship, I found myself allocated to the Hammersmith and Fulham Youth Offending Team, a social service department that focuses on the bettering of children’s lives through a variety of programs. The children come to the attention of the service following a referral from the police for first/low offenders or the judiciary for more serious repeat offenders. The children are aged 10 to 15 and come from a wide range of economic, social and familial backgrounds. To demonstrate the intensity of the six weeks, the first Wednesday I had my interview; by Thursday I was shadowing my supervisor's sessions with youth offenders and by the following Tuesday I was contacting my own referred children, meeting with the children and writing post-session Onset evaluation forms.

My personal experience, to say the least, was incredible. In less than two full business days my supervisor provided me with a wealth of individual responsibilities and most importantly, trust. After my first day, I was not shadowing my supervisor, printing and making copies or doing endless data entry. My relationship to my supervisor was a partnership and together we worked in completing the influx of youth offenders during the summer break.

The above-mentioned partnership was founded on trust. Trust in that the work I did dealt with children. Not material goods or natural resources, but actual children. From less than two full days, I can amass that the difference between doing your job and doing your job well have a larger impact on the life of the individual child. This meaning the decisions I make effect the lives of children, possibly for an hour, possibly for a day, even possibly for the rest of the children’s lives. To express the gravity of this trust, an internship entry is provided below from the 23rd of May. The day, although my first, turned out to be a fairly typical day: typical in the stories, children and work I came in contact with.

‘The first day is always slow in a way. It’s uncomfortable, you’re unfamiliar to most and you’re trying to get your bearings. Even simple things like lunch, dress code and trips to the bathroom have their undiscovered mores and boundaries. As the day progressed, lunch has come and gone and it wasn't long before I found myself in a room with my supervisor and a sixteen-year-old girl. The girl had been arrested for assaulting a police officer while the officer and his partner were arresting her mother.

The girl on first impression was a very energetic, polite, well dressed young girl. The interview, or rather dialogue, commenced and my supervisor explained to the girl what we do, why she is here and some other substantive information. This was then followed with questions regarding school, friends, drugs, alcohol, family, etc. Quite an exhausting list of questions, especially for a sixteen-year old. Looking back on sixteen I was annoyed even being asked, ‘How was school?', Always habitually responding with ‘good’. No more, no less.

What the girl told us was this: Before she was born her grandmother and grandfather fought constantly. Her grandfather was physically and verbally abusive to her grandmother. The girl’s mother also found herself at the misplaced hand of the girl’s grandfather’s abuse and soon turned to substance abuse. The girl’s mother eventually moved out and met the girl’s father. Unfortunately there was no fairytale ending as the girl’s mother married what she knew, what was comfortable to her - a man who abused her.

The girl has no intention of ever speaking to her father again, however has witnessed her own mother’s neglect and abuse. The girl has a horrible relationship with her mother but despite her poor relationship with her mother, sought to protect her mother during the assault on the police officer. When she saw a male figure physically handling her mother, her protective instinct kicked in and that was it. As the session continued more and more of the girl’s life was brought to light, yet despite all the negative pasts and present of this young girl she never lost her smile.

As I exhale leaving this session I watch the girl walk out in front of me, regroup with her two girlfriends and watch them walk out the door. As I sit here on the tube reflecting on my first day, I feel powerless and I am scared for the girl, however, I remember her smile. Six weeks is a short period of time but I will strive to leave my mark. The girl’s smile gives me hope and that’s all I have for now. Hope that I can take this experience and help those individuals who find themselves in similar situations. Hope that I can leave a mark here in England. Hope that I can offer an escape and change the lives of those who find themselves in deteriorating familial relationships, changing their life for the better.’

My passion coming to London was relationships of the heart. I want to be a family law attorney working with cases in domestic abuse, child abuse, marriage, divorce, etc. In this short life it is the relationships familial and romantic that matter most to us. This is my passion and having the opportunity at the Youth Offending Team to work one-on-one with children and see first hand how these abuses and relationships effect the individual children has worked only to harness my passion.

The trust my supervisor had in me allowed me to develop a sort of practical empathy, a shoulder to cry on but also a map to guide the child by. I leave the Youth Offending Team and CAPA International Education more passionate, more focused and more prepared. This has been an experience that I will always carry with me.

Also, check out these five internship secrets from five superstar interns and learn how to make the most of your internship while studying abroad.

Topics: London, England, CAPA Alumni, Internships Abroad