17 Jul 2012

Our LEAP programme supports young people in the Leeds area. This work includes young people with disabilities, as well as children from refugee and other migrant backgrounds.

Judith ShalkowskiLEAP's manager, Judith Shalkowski (see photo) answered a range of our questions to find out more about what they do and how they are making a difference to children’s lives.

The Children's Society: What do you think the biggest challenges are in working with children and young people?

Judith Shalkowski: One of the biggest challenges we face at LEAP is that we work city-wide in a large, fast-growing city! In spite of this, we have developed new areas of work and been able to develop effective partnerships, reaching hundreds if not thousands of children since 2004. Another challenge is that the short-term nature of some work gives us such limited time to see children and young people develop. However, we have been amazed at how well children using our services have benefited.

What do you feel has been your biggest achievement over the past year?

Some of us are still here and we still have the enthusiasm to commit to our work. We celebrate every achievement and shouted the loudest when we heard we had been extended another year for our HEARTS work. We are also very proud of the way we have developed and planned, retaining staff and volunteers.

What impact have you had on the local community?

Years ago, people who came into contact with our service often asked which LEAP programme we were, as there seemed to be a few in Leeds. Especially in the past few years, our profile is raised and our work is known as effectively delivering high quality services. We have delivered years of disability training courses to professionals working with disabled children and the evaluations praised the way our training transformed their attitudes and the lives of children in Leeds. Excellent advocacy services to refugee families have contributed to a fairer and more efficient asylum claim process. Earlier this year, we partnered with the Leeds city council and the local safeguarding children’s board to host a local runaways event, which raised awareness of the Make Runaways Safe campaign and featured some representatives from The Children’s Society’s headquarters.

How many children and young people do you support each year?

We work with over 500 children per year in our direct work with young people, as well as the parents of these children. In 2011 we also provided training to 522 professionals who work directly with young people.  

What are your plans for the coming year?

We're really looking forward to continuing to deliver our HEARTS work to 2014 and are starting to plan the resources and conference to share our learning. Our newly developed befriending scheme was just kicked off as part of a collaborative partnership to deliver short break services to hundreds of disabled children in Leeds. We are starting partnerships with other organisations and joint working agreements, such as schools, the new short breaks provider, social care, the Roma partnership group, churches, and other organisations that we highly respect. We want to continue to respond to the needs of children and young people in Leeds in a way that makes a real difference to their childhood.

Finish this sentence: I couldn't do my job without . . .

. . . the LEAP staff and volunteers, and the other people in my life who believe in me.

What do you think are the most frustrating stereotypes about young people?

That children and young people don’t care.

What is the predominant reason you come across for children running away?

Challenges in home life or relationships.

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