How StreetInvest Supports Street-Connected Children

From their office in London, StreetInvest is doing their best to aid children around the world who are on the streets. Here is their story.

StreetInvest supports positive, sustainable change in the lives of the hardest to reach and most excluded street-connected children in the world. 

Based in Twickenham, a suburban town in southwest London, England, with 71 partners all around the world, StreetInvest envisions a world where every street-connected child has a trustworthy adult in their lives so that they are safer, better supported and valued by their communities. 

Duncan Ross, Chief Executive, StreetInvest speaks to Youth Time about the mission, activities and ways they work successfully while being centred on three regional centres; Ghana, Kenya and India.   

Believing that street-connected children are the most resilient, resourceful and responsive young people he had the honour to meet, Duncan initially highlights that these children are their inspiration – and the inspiration of the extraordinary Street Workers who go out onto the streets to be with them wherever and whenever they need. 

In this piece, we will learn more about this, and we will also dig into two amazing, crucial stories in putting this idea together.


Child-Centred Based Approach

Duncan takes on a journey to see how the organisation improves the life and conditions of these children. 

“It is described as a child-centred, rights based approach and the outcomes are guided by the core principles of the UNCRC, namely safety (protection rights), access to services (provision rights) and a sense of belonging (participation rights).”

StreetInvest has developed an approach based on these principles which is founded entirely on establishing a voluntary relationship of mutual trust between the excluded young person and the Street Worker (otherwise described as Social Street Worker in Europe, Detached Youth Worker in the United Kingdom and Educateur in Francophone countries). 

How StreetInvest Supports Street Connected Children
Investing: StreetInvest were inspired by stories they saw on the ground to make a difference

According to him, a relationship of trust requires many characteristics–patience, consistency, listening, mutual respect, non-judgemental approaches, etc. 

StreetInvest counts how many children leave the street, go to school, go home, get a job, receive medical treatment, find food and shelter and so on. 

However, Duncan adds that, perhaps oddly, these are not their prime goal–their prime goal is to help each child to maximise their own growth and development in whatever way is best for them.

“We would like to help each child develop  however best  suits them.  We also want to minimise the abuse, stigma and discrimination they suffer at the hands of others,” he highlights, while adding that, for StreetInvest, the core to both these things is every child having access to a trustworthy adult.


The Biggest Success

When asked to describe the biggest success of StreetInvest’s work so far, he said that ‘success’ for each individual child is of course ultimately the thing that probably motivates them most.  

“However, that ‘success’ will be different for each child and may be a tiny first step towards more successes over many years,” Duncan explains.

This is because the most important thing for Duncan and the team is seeing that the principles of a rights-based approach are followed and promoted – that the child is respected, and recognised as the expert in their own life.

This is probably why the UN General Comment Number 21, in which the organisation was intimately involved for several years, is probably the single most important achievement in recent years.

“For the first time, it explicitly recognises the rights of all street-connected children everywhere.”, he clarifies. 


Achieving StreetInvest’s Mission 

In this part, Duncan focuses on how they achieve their vision and mission. 

“We have a Regional Coordinating Partner in each of Kumasi, Mombasa and Kolkata who maintain networks of local partners all approaching the same issue based on the same principles.”

At a more macro-level, StreetInvest is a sector-leading expert on data collection and research, continues to support local, regional, national and international advocacy efforts for the rights of these young people, offers training and development to Street Workers and other duty bearers and aims to contribute to the organisational strength of our partners. 

“We are currently working towards a 10-year vision and a five-year business plan (as recently amended considering the COVID-19 crisis) which targets substantial growth over the five-year period to increase the number of partners in our Global Alliance for Street Work (GASW) to 200 with a direct reach to 100,000 street-connected children.”


StreetInvest and Young People 

Since Youth Time is a magazine from young people to young people, we spoke to StreetInvest on how young people can engage and support the cause. 

 “At its broadest, it helps simply to understand and promote ‘child-centred, rights-based’ approaches, which recognises street-connected children as positive members of the community full of potential rather than either criminals or victims.” 

The organisation has worked with many students whose studies have applied to the lives of street-connected young people.  

“These have ranged from high school students doing projects to undergraduate, graduate and PhD completing their theses,” Duncan adds.

And this is not all. 

There are many volunteering opportunities with StreetInvest and its partners. 

“We are currently looking for support for, first, digital/social marketing and, second, a late summer fundraising challenge event in West London to which we would like to add a virtual element.”

However, Duncan explains opportunities are limited and where the partners work is often very sensitive, so they are very risk-averse.


Patrick and Duncan

But, where did all these achievements stem from? 

The inspiring story of StreetInvest goes all the way back to the 1980s to the slums of Accra, the capital city of Ghana.  

Patrick Shanahan, one of StreetInvest’s Co-Founders, was working in Ghana and wanted to understand more of the challenges of the country’s development, particularly around urbanisation. 

While there, he discovered children living and working in the centre of this huge and growing city, selling things to passing cars, begging, working on the dumps collecting plastic and other waste for recycling, etc.  

He, like everyone else, assumed that these children ‘belonged’ to someone, but he soon discovered that they were in fact living alone, with no adult supervision or protection.

Patrick was amazed and appalled by what he found and did what most people would be inclined to do–namely find these children a home and get them into school. 

The very moment of inspiration for Patrick came when a 10-year-old boy looked him in the eye and said: “Mr. Patrick, you seem like a nice man, but what for your school?” 

Suddenly, he realised he knew almost nothing about these children, yet he had made major assumptions about how they should lead their lives and what they should do. 

“It was at this point that he pledged that, if we work with children, we, first, need to get to them rather than expect them to come to us and, second, we need to respect them as experts in their own lives,” Duncan says, and adds to this his own story, some 25 years later when he was on his first visit to Zambia. 

“I met Robbie. He was the same age as my second son, about the same size and wearing the same Manchester United football shirt as my son.”

He then realized that he [Robbie] was the same young man, but simply under very different circumstances. 

“My son had me, and all our family and all the support mechanisms of school, community, services and everything else, but Robbie had none of that–indeed, just more neglect and abuse from the ones he should have been able to turn to.”, he explains. 

So, this was his inspiration.

“The same as Patrick but, for me, one extra thing. I have a very clear vision of mentally looking behind Robbie and seeing a long, long line of Robbie’s snaking away into the distance. For me, the extra thing is that we need to reach as many Robbie’s as possible – and there are millions of them,” he concludes.

StreetInvest is doing an amazing job, and you can support them to reach every Robbie in the world and brighten their future.

Donate to StreetInvest!

Want more from Gresë Sermaxhaj? How about this article she wrote for World Refugee Day.

World Refugee Day: Honouring Strength and Resilience of Young Refugees

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