Social work and male mentorship: challenging misconceptions

Welcome to our latest spotlight feature where we delve into the world of those who make a difference at Top Blokes. This month we chat with Dani Lynch, a social work student who’s not only conquering her third year at university but also tackling a work placement with us. 

Initially stepping into the role with reservations about mentoring young men, Dani’s journey has been one of significant personal and professional growth. From confronting her preconceptions to discovering a world of support, empathy and kindness, Dani’s experience has reshaped her understanding of what it means to work with male youth.

What are you studying at university, and how does it relate to your placement? 

I’m wrapping up my third year in a four-year Honours course in Social Work. At Top Blokes, my 500-hour placement involves working directly in the field. Unlike some placements where you might shadow someone, here I’ve got an external weekly supervisor. We touch base regularly to discuss how I can apply theoretical knowledge in practice, navigate personal values and biases, and connect my social work practice to what I do at Top Blokes.

Can you describe your initial thoughts about your work placement? 

When the uni decided I’d be joining Top Blokes, I was intrigued but a bit daunted. I hadn’t heard of them before, so I dived into their website and watched some YouTube videos to get a feel for the organisation. The prospect of working with male youth was new to me, and as a female, I wondered about my role as a mentor. My background was in one-on-one social work, so group facilitation felt like uncharted territory.

Youth Worker Will briefing Dani before a workshop

What were your initial impressions of young men before starting your placement? 

Frankly, I was terrified. The thought of walking into a room full of Year 10 boys, larger and louder than life, was intimidating. I had no prior experience interacting with them and had preconceptions about them being disrespectful and troublesome. However, my social work training also reminded me they’re often misunderstood, and I needed to keep an open mind.

How has your perspective changed over the weeks and across the schools you’ve worked with? 

I’ve spent 16 weeks across 14 schools – both high school and primary –  and it’s radically shifted my view. The young men I’ve met are not only respectful but also insightful, especially on social issues. Their ability to think critically and share personal experiences openly has been eye-opening. Watching them support each other sometimes even to the point of tears and show their vulnerability with each other without judgement has been incredibly moving. Top Blokes mentors share their own stories and experiences, role modelling that vulnerability and showing that it is ok to talk about hardships and to express your emotions.

What do you find most rewarding about your work with Top Blokes? 

Facilitating group discussions has been a game-changer for me. It’s a skill I didn’t have before and now value deeply. These young men have shown me different perspectives and challenged my preconceptions. It’s rewarding to see them as individuals, each with unique experiences and qualities. It’s been a privilege to be part of their journey and watch them grow.

What challenges have you faced? 

Finding my footing was tough initially. I was concerned about garnering respect in a male-dominated space. But, adopting the role of a positive female figure has been empowering. I’ve learned how to use my voice effectively, provide a female viewpoint and use my presence to help create a nurturing, safe environment.

Dani (centre) with Top Blokes Jo and Kathryn at the Domestic Violence march
Working through mentor debriefs with Youth Worker, Kathryn

Could you share a particularly impactful moment from your placement? 

One significant moment was when a young man shared his feelings openly, saying he’d never felt so safe to share his thoughts and feelings. That was a big moment for me. When boys make a disclosure you know you are making an impact and giving them the tools they need to express what is going on for them in a safe way.

Another moment was when I shared my personal story of resilience after my brother’s passing and seeing the boys support me in return was profoundly moving. They listened respectfully, they held that space for me and it resonated with several of them who were also experiencing grief.

Which Top Blokes program do you find most impactful, and why? 

The ‘Healthy Minds’ program strikes a chord with me because it’s incredibly informative and equips the boys with practical tools. The discussions around topics like pornography are enlightening for everyone involved—it’s a safe space where no question is too silly. This could be the only time in a young man’s life that they actually get to talk openly about this topic with a trusted adult and ask all the questions they want to.

Working here in my placement, showed me just how incredibly important this program is. I would love to see it rolled out across every single school for every single boy. And I know I’m not alone in thinking this. I’ve heard from other workplace students and the boys themselves about the profound impact Top Blokes has had on their lives.

Finally, what advice would you give your high school self? 

You got this! Always push yourself out of your comfort zone and don’t look back. The challenges you face will shape you into a more resilient and empathetic person.

Dani’s experiences highlight the significant impact that dedicated engagement and mentorship have in the field of youth work. Her time at Top Blokes sheds light on the deep connections and real-world learning that emerge when we embrace challenges beyond our familiar boundaries. Dani’s insights into working with young men show the importance of empathy and resilience. We can’t wait to see Dani complete her degree and be a positive and supportive influence on those she will work with. 

Thank you, Dani, for sharing your journey with us and for being part of the Top Blokes community.