Problem Solving From Streets to Sofas

By Dr Nina Browne

We were all piled on to sofas in the lounge. The housing commissioner was sitting in the 'helped' seat. A young woman, whose home we were in, was sitting in the ‘helper’ seat. The commissioner said "Young people have tell me these places do not feel like home, I’ve tried so many things over the years. Can you help me?". The young woman didn’t hesitate. The answer was simple. “We didn’t choose to be here. Let us choose the colour of the paint”

They were in a ‘Problem Solving Booth’ (PSB), in the Camden Young People’s Pathway. This was a new idea. Young people were helping staff. They had taken the concept from street corners into their homes.  

Like the commissioner, my professional role means I’m normally doing the helping. I expect people to come to me. I'm a clinical psychologist. These were different types of conversations. They turn help seeking on it’s head. The professional gives up their usual position; they ask for help. The young person feels heard and valued in a new way; they do the helping. 

“We all need love, care and attention sometimes and at the end of the day we didn’t choose this . We’ve been forced to grow up very quickly, thrown in the deep end and left. We need to be supported, but staff need to be supported too. We need to support each other, it needs to come from both parties”.

One of the challenges when working with young people and particularly those facing complex challenges, is how best to talk to each other. Often, we think we delivering a particular message but it might be heard differently by the young person, or vice versa. This can be hard for staff and young people and challenges can often get “acted out”. Sometimes staff might even become fearful of young people, or young people might feel abandoned or uncared for.

These challenges are known to exist in housing pathways nationally, not just in Camden. The bigger challenge is how to get young people and staff to work on these challenges TOGETHER?

PSBs were a useful tool in helping change the power dynamic between staff and young people. They put big questions to be put on the table and got discussed in new ways. New ways of understanding problems were reached, even when solutions weren’t found.

“Everyone now has an understanding of a young person’s point of view and we also now understand a professional’s point of view, like, your job is quite tight so you lot have to work around other people’s positions…we get that now”

PSBs started in November 2016 and have really taken off. We are looking for new partners in young people’s accommodation to help us to develop them further. What could it look like if young people led this work? Perhaps we could train them up in running PSBs and they could train their staff teams? That’s just one idea. We know you’ll have others. Get in touch!


Thanks to all of the organisations that enabled this project to happen: Including Camden CouncilCatch22, St Christophers, SHP and One Housing

Full report also available on request.