Street workers – a trusted adult for street children

by Kate Bretherton
Friday, 11 April 2014 12:30 GMT

A Thai railway police woman teaches a street child boy how to write at Hualampong Railway Station in central Bangkok. REUTERS/Stringer

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A street worker describes how building trust is key in providing support to children living in the streets.

Street children will often form strong connections to the street because of difficulties at home. These difficulties could be domestic violence, food, money or the death of the breadwinner for the family, in essence connections are formed with the street through poverty and family breakdown. 

On the street, children face extreme discrimination – they are denied access to education, healthcare, food and shelter. They face persistent, direct and indirect exposure to violence, exploitation and abuse from others within the community. 

And most worryingly, this is often from those who are in a position to protect them. For instance, police are one of the main perpetrators of violence against street children. Street children are frequently rounded-up by police and taken to the outskirts of the city or in some cases locked up. 

These daily hardships mean that street children can be very wary of others and find it difficult to trust those whom they live and work alongside. 

To provide support to these children it is imperative that relationships of trust are built up. And this needs to start on the street, in their environment. 

Trained social workers go to places where street children are and talk to them. They work to understand each individual child, their concerns and their interests. But the street worker must prove to the child that they can be trusted, that they care about them and that they will keep their word. 

StreetInvest works with outreach teams around the world. They asked street workers about how they develop relationships with street children, what changes for the children as a result and what has been learnt about the value of street work. 


Here’s what one street worker in South Africa said:  

“First get to the child's level and respect his area. If he sits on the floor, then you must also sit on the floor and spend some time with him. Be friendly, non-judgemental and let him feel that there is nothing wrong with him even if he is dirty and taking drugs. Give him food and eat with him. See the situation around him. Maybe he can't talk then because someone else is watching him. 

“Over time you develop the relationship by being consistent, be there when you say you are going to be there; even if he is not there, maybe he is hiding and watching you to see if you kept your word. Build the relationship by being around where he is. Show an interest in him. 

“Know things about his world. Ask questions, but not with a book and a pen otherwise you are going to make him scared. Tell him something about yourself. Share. See what is happening for the child – maybe in the morning he doesn't want to speak to you because he is coming off drugs. 

“You must respect his environment and his time when he is ready. Be there. Maybe he will talk later in the day. Maybe he is just comforted by your presence even if he doesn't show it. 

“The result of the street work gives the child a feeling that there is someone he can trust, someone he can talk to, and someone who is looking out for him. He will respect himself more after time and he will also respect you more. 

“When the time comes that he wants to get out of the situation, he knows who to turn to and where to go for help. Then he will come into the Homestead Intake Shelter where the whole team of social workers and child care workers will welcome him and bring him into the developmental and therapeutic programme. 

“They will assess him, stabilise him, provide medical care, drug counselling, schooling, investigate his home circumstances and do family reunification work, after which he will be transferred to a suitable long term placement where he will receive nurturing and opportunities to reach his potential.

StreetInvest works with street children who often fend for themselves with no-one to guide them. Always working through local agencies, StreetInvest find out how many and where they are, what they need and then support enough street workers to be the trustworthy adults to help improve their lives. 

Kate Bretherton is development director at StreetInvest. For more information visit: or contact Kate at 

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