Dean Hanley is making a difference in the lives of the Sunshine Coast's most vulnerable young people, helping homeless and at-risk youth find their feet. 

Five years ago, Dean Hanley gave up his highly lucrative job installing infrastructure services to pursue a more rewarding career. Now, the TAFE Queensland graduate has discovered his passion in helping homeless and at-risk youth on the Sunshine Coast to get off the streets and get back on their feet.

As a Youth Mobile Homeless Support Worker for St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland (Vinnies), Mr Hanley helps people aged 16 to 25 years get access to safe accommodation. He assists by helping them complete Department of Housing applications, apply for Centrelink payments, obtain identification, look for work, seek mental health support, and repair relationships. In his role Mr Hanley is a pillar of support for many youth facing an uncertain future.

It’s an emotionally challenging role requiring an immense amount of compassion and empathy. But for Mr Hanley, it is a career he’s always envisioned for himself — he just didn’t know what it was called.

“I was a very successful horizontal directional driller, but that was only ever an interim career for me — it just didn’t tug at my heart strings,” Mr Hanley said.

“I’ve always wanted to work with young people and fight for the underdog, and the people I work with are just that. They're at an age where they're highly vulnerable, and what happens to them now can really shape them.

“Personally, I would have liked to have someone like me there to help when I was younger. My journey at that age so significantly impacted the rest of my life — if I had early intervention in my younger years, my life would have been totally different.”

Mr Hanley initially enrolled in the Certificate IV in Youth Work (CHC40413) at TAFE Queensland’s Mooloolaba campus in 2015, but went on to complete a Diploma of Youth Work (CHC50413) in 2016 after the program helped him gain confidence.

“I only began to learn how to read and write at 35, so I wasn’t sure how difficult it would be,” Mr Hanley said.

“The course was really practical though, with lots of interaction and role-play scenarios, and we were able to bounce ideas off each other.

“There was a lot of unexpected experiences too — it was an emotional journey for me, but it really taught me the core values of being a youth worker. In addition to the fundamentals, I learned things like how to establish boundaries, how to reflect on my approach and improve it, and how important it is to take care of yourself at the same time. We experience a lot of vicarious trauma, so you need to make sure you don’t burn out.”

In his third term of study, Mr Hanley began volunteering with Integrated Family and Youth Services. Three weeks later he was offered a casual role which he undertook while he continued his studies. After attending a young parents’ support program Mr Hanley was inspired to join a youth shelter. There he became the go-to youth worker for many young locals before eventually joining the team at Vinnies.

“When I saw this role at Vinnies come up I was like, ‘That’s me!’,” he said.

“You often hear that saying, that when you love what you do you never work a day in your life, and for me it’s true — I’m the happiest person when I get into work on Mondays.”

Having now been in his role for 14 months, Mr Hanley works tirelessly with Vinnies' Department of Housing and Public Works funded Youth Homelessness Support Team to help the estimated 1600 people facing homelessness each night on the Sunshine Coast.

“There are more than 116,000 Australians facing homelessness on any given night, and a quarter of those are under 18. We need to be doing everything we can to get that number down,” he said.

Data produced by the Australian Government’s Department of Jobs and Small Business has highlighted the demand for social and welfare professionals over the next five years, with employment opportunities forecast to increase by 18.7 per cent by 2023.

If you’re looking for a rewarding career, there’s never been a better time to pursue a career in community services. Get in touch today today and see where TAFE can take you.

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