Extern News Getting to know you - Colin McCusker Hi Colin! Tell us how you came to join Extern? I joined Extern in January 2003, as part of the first full-time Youth Support Projects in the Republic. I was based in Dundalk on an 18-month contract and have been here ever since. What made you want to work for Extern? I had known about Extern and the work they do in Fermanagh, as the projects would visit the local leisure centre where I worked. During this time I was trying to develop a career for myself in outdoor education, and enjoyed helping young people push their boundaries and build confidence through outdoor pursuits. Seeing how Extern staff used these activities as a means to provide a deeper support really inspired me. What sort of work do you and your team do on a day-to-day basis? My role is quite varied within Extern. I manage a number of teams who provide a wide range of supports to young people, families and communities. Our Janus and Linx projects in Cavan and Dundalk support young people by responding creatively to crisis. The teams are extremely dedicated and flexible in their approach; for example, the team in Dundalk are currently helping to develop a cookery book for young people, by young people. And the team in Cavan have pulled together over the year to support a number of very complex cases to remain at home, making an identified saving of €622,000 to the state in one calendar year. Our Traveller Primary Health care team supports over 55 families per year to avail of health supports, and this year launched the first Extern Traveller health Facebook page, which has proved to be a massive support especially during the pandemic. What areas do you cover geographically – and is it a challenge to cover such a wide area? I cover Louth, Meath, and Cavan. I have also taken on our new respite facility, The Haven, in Co Roscommon. It is, of course, a challenge covering such a large area, however I am lucky that I have two very dedicated Assistant Managers, and a highly experienced team. One thing that this pandemic has shown us is that we can use technology to our advantage, allowing me to attend meetings with stakeholders in any region on the same day. What kind of insight has working with Extern given you into the world of social care? The most important thing we can do for young people and families is to listen, and really understand what their needs are at any particular time. I don’t believe our role is to change people, only the individual can do that. I believe that we create spaces where change can happen. The great thing about working with Extern is that we are providing social care services within families’ own communities, starting an intervention at their point of need and utilising existing supports, should that be extended family, community and clubs. What are the particular challenges faced by the people you work with in your area? At this time we are seeing an increase in isolation and associated mental health issues. The pandemic has amplified this with the closure of schools, sports and other forms of social interaction. This lack of social interaction and isolation is leading to more and more homes and families at risk of breakdown. This is why having the Haven in Roscommon is so important, as it will provide a safe space for young people to learn new, better ways of coping with stressful situations and for families to reconnect. What are the qualities you need to do your job? You need to be patient, understanding and supportive, as well as being creative, ambitious and motivated. What do you enjoy most about your job? I enjoy being presented with a problem, and working together to find new creative ways of addressing the issue. I enjoy seeing young people and families making positive changes in their lives and I’m always humbled to be in a position to see this happen. Have you any interesting or unusual stories you can share with us? Throughout my career with Extern I have been lucky enough to have met and worked with some amazing people. One project worker in particular, who I met in 2007, really inspired me. Her commitment, support, and her creative and fun attitude helped promote change in all the young people she worked with, and within me. I am very happy to say that I married Emily in 2012; we now have two beautiful kids, and she continues to inspire me every day. And what do you like to do when you’re not at work? I like spending time with my family outdoors. I do a lot of whitewater and surf kayaking with the Dundalk Kayak Club. I enjoy walking, cycling, camping, and I’m involved with the local Scout group too.