Jade's story

                                                        Jade (12) witnessed serious domestic violence whilst younger, has no contact with her Dad, and a very difficult relationship with her Mum.  She had no friends other than online acquaintances, and hadn’t left the house socially in over a year, resulting in her only attending school for 20 days in 201. Despite having a social worker, outreach worker and CAMHS worker, at huge cost, little change had occurred in years and there were real concerns about depression and risk of exploitation.

Despite her difficulties leaving the house, Jade agreed to trial coming on a week’s residential with Free to Be – simply as a break. Whilst with us she was part of a group for the first time in a year. She had close support from empathetic volunteers, learned to light a campfire, walk through the woods in the dark, and canoe across a lake. When she capsized, her new friends helped her out of the water. Instead of feeling stuck, angry and alone, Jade was helped to feel adventurous, included, purposeful and successful. By the end of the project Jade was smiling, no longer isolated and had made a good group of friends. She was supported to have fun, challenge herself in ways which felt manageable, and begin to talk through challenges rather than avoid them.

Spending over 60 hours’ of positive, affirming time with adults , equating to more than a year’s worth of social work or similar intervention, provided the intensive support Jade needed to begin to feel differently about herself and the world. Jade is now working with a mentor from Free to Be, whom she feels able to trust having spent time with them on the residential. She is keen to volunteer as a Young Leader, has cautiously begun attending a youth group local to her house, and is beginning to re-engage with school. 

Dylan's story

Last year Dylan (aged 9) told teachers that he and his mum had been made homeless and were living in a derelict warehouse with no water, electricity or heating. Dylan’s mum struggled with mental health problems and there were real concerns about neglect. Although they were soon re-housed, Dylan’s school were worried that Dylan’s view of himself was in tatters. He never felt brave enough to answer questions in class, had no friends at school, and when asked what he would like to be when he grew up, answered “someone else”.

Dylan came on a Free to Be gateway project this summer. He was helped to feel brave enough to climb the leap of faith, worked in a group to navigate the woods at night, and lay by the campfire telling stories and sharing memories with the other boys in his group - something he would never have felt confident enough to do in school. Now matched to a Free to Be mentor whom he trusts having already met them during the residential, Dylan’s school are thrilled with his progress. He has made new friendships, presents as much more positive, and is doing much better academically.

Meena's story

Meena (11)’s mum struggles with mental health issues. Meena has no contact with her father and her elder brother is in prison.

Earlier this year Meena sent a note by text message, saying she wanted to commit suicide. Although attending counselling as a result, she would clam up not feeling able to speak, and school described her as regularly presenting as sad, alone, defiant and angry. Meena struggles with body image, and gets little or no exercise. Mum turned down the school’s offer of group support and school had reached a point where they could no longer cope.

Meena agreed to trial coming on a Free to Be residential break in August 2018. On the first night she was too shy to join in a game of tag because she felt the other girls would laugh at her for not being able to run far. By the end of the week, the group cheered her on when she ran with them from one side of the football pitch to the other. It took our volunteers over half an hour to coax her into a kayak, but when she eventually risked it and paddled out into the lake, she was grinning from ear to ear. Immediately afterwards, she asked to phone home and proudly told her mum all about it. At the end of the week, Meena told us she had pushed herself to try so many new things and couldn't believe what she had managed to do. We've now secured funding for Meena to return on a year’s worth of follow up Journey Projects to build on the progress she has made so far.


"Free to Be has really changed my life. The attention I got from the adults was just unreal. I could actually trust someone outside my family and that was really helpful. Before, I wasn’t really an outgoing person, but it's weird because now I’m motivated to do things - it unlocked that door for me."

Jordan, Aged 16

(Excluded from school age 13, now helping train our other Young Leaders)

Free to Be Kids

Growing children's emotional health

We help some of the most disadvantaged children in London and beyond to change their stories about who they are and who they can become.

Many of our children struggle to engage with more traditional forms of help. Families often distrust professionals and children arrive with very limited horizons, feeling they are somehow broken, 'a problem', or a failure.

We use adventures in the outdoors, residential breaks designed to build confidence and self-worth, one-to-one mentoring and youth leadership programmes, to support vulnerable children to feel included, proud and successful, often for the first time in a long time.  In turn this transforms their capacity to believe in themselves, to reach their full potential, and ultimately to do better at school and in relationships with others. Free to Be projects are built around our belief that every child deserves to experience joy and adventure within their childhood.  By getting a bit muddy, learning to care for animals, working together to build a raft and paddle across a lake,  or camping out under the stars for the first time, we help children with limited expectations of themselves to see just how much they really can achieve.  

We're a young, growing charity focused on doing the small things well.  We build our programmes around the energy, creativity and dedication brought by large numbers of committed volunteers, enabling us to reach children across 12 London Boroughs with only small numbers of staff. Together with our volunteer base, we form a tight knit team and if you feel you could add to what we do, we'd love to hear from you.

About the role:

We're looking for an exceptional and experienced youth worker to join our small team, delivering immersive and horizon-broadening residential projects, and follow-on youth work support, for particularly vulnerable children. You'll run weekend youth group sessions, lead days out and overnight trips, as well as working 1:1 with young people in this interesting but challenging dual role. You'll work right alongside the charity's founders, playing an integral role in developing this young and vibrant charity and gaining significant insight into varied aspects of charity management and innovative youth work. Your main work will be in helping lead and deliver our award winning Thrive Outside programme, which takes particularly disadvantaged young people, (primarily aged 8-13) on week long outdoor based breaks, helping them to feel brave, included,talented and successful, and then offers a range of tailored ongoing youth work support to those most in need, throughout the following years. Around 60% of your time will be spent delivering this follow-on youth work - building powerful relationships with vulnerable young people who have attended our initial Thrive Outside residentials, but who now need longer term support. The majority come from complex backgrounds, and you will need prior youth work experience in responding to complex behaviour, and helping other staff/volunteers do the same. You’ll take the lead on growing and deepening support to our Young Leaders, and will help design, and then run, weekend based adventure sessions for some of our most in need young people. You’ll pick up 1:1 support with young people at difficult moments in their lives, and, in time, will lead teams of volunteers or student youth workers in this work. You’ll spend the other 40% of your time helping lead at least 7 of our residential projects each year. Working on the ground to manage teams of 5 - 25 volunteers, overseeing the wellbeing of 10 - 40 children and young people per project, ensuring the projects are special, safe and transformative for vulnerable children. These projects are intense, immersive and exhausting in all the right ways, providing memorable, fun, special experiences for the adults taking part, just as much as the children!

What's on offer:

Our offer to the right candidate:

Salary: £27,000 - £31,000 dependent on experience. Hours: Fulltime: 37 hours per week spread over 5 days, one of which must be a Saturday or Sunday during term-times. Attendance on 7 residential projects a year. Leave: 46 days per year, inclusive of bank holidays and pre-set reward days. (Yes, we know how generous this is - but we ask a lot in return. See recruitment pack.) Other benefits: 3% employer pension contribution paid on full base salary; flexible working (outside core hours); Employee benefit scheme including employee health plan and reward scheme offering reduced cinema tickets, meals out and entry to days out/attractions. Based: Our offices near Waterloo, Lambeth, but with youth work sessions across south London To start: Must be able to start by week commencing 19th July 2021, at the latest. Fixed term contract until July 2023 with potential for extension. You will need to have held a UK driving licence for a minimum of 2 years and be willing, with training, to drive a minibus as an essential part of the role.

Who we're looking for:

You should have good experience of working with young people (aged 8-17) as a youth worker or in a similar role involving sustantial direct work with young people. All children referred to Free to Be come from complex backgrounds and as a result children can at times display complex behaviour - we’re looking for someone who is passionate about the rights of these children, loves working with them, and is able to throw their heart and soul into making a real difference on their behalf. You’ll need experience of responding to complex behaviour in prior roles, as well as energy, vibrancy and resilience to forge deep and trusting relationships with marginalised children and families who have often had negative experiences of schools, social care or other more formal settings. Attendance on our residential projects, totalling approximately 45 days and nights each year, is an important requirement of the role - you’ll need the flexibility to make this fit, and the confidence to take on leadership roles on these projects. Our projects use natural settings, work with animals and adventurous activities to capture young people's imaginations, so a love of nature and the outdoors, an ease with camping, and a willingness to 'rough it' a little are also important. (Although you don’t need to be Bear Grylls – our projects are about introducing young people to the outdoors and helping them experience freedom and space, rather than a huge focus on ‘outward bound’ adrenaline style activities.). This role would suit you if you’re motivated, proactive, and know that working with vulnerable young people is ‘your thing’. We want someone with drive and personality, who has fantastic rapport with young people, and are keen to encourage applications from youth workers who can help us represent the lived experiences of our children through their own lived experience or background. We’re focussed on investing in and developing the right candidate and we care much more about character and potential than word perfect CVs. If you have the drive and passion needed for this role, download our recruitment pack to apply.

About Free to Be Kids:

Senior Youth Worker

(Closing date: Midnight on 25th May 2021)

98% of young people we support show an increase in social confidence or self-esteem. 82% show a very significant increase.

99% develop new social skills, including better managing frustration or  better trusting and working with adults.

100% of schools report lasting changes in emotional wellbeing and behaviour, including children's increased capacity to work with others and improved belief in their own potential.

Jordan, aged 15

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Free To Be Kids, CAN Mezzanine, 7-14 Great Dover St, London SE1 4YR

0203 778 0323

Registered Charity Number: 1165678

© 2020 Free To Be Kids