I don’t think many people would actually dispute the power of relationships to support growth and development in all of us. After all, as social beings, we spend our childhood and much of our adulthood too learning - about ourselves, other people, relationships and the world, all through our experience of relationships with others.
I recognise our experience of the world and of other people during childhood is rarely perfect, but for some it’s much more difficult than for others. Especially when, for whatever reason, we don’t receive all the care we need, or worse, from those whose job it is to care for us.
If not addressed, the effects of ACEs are very likely to be significant and problematic over the whole life course, with clear links identified to: social, emotional and behavioural difficulties; early disengagement from education; involvement in offending and the youth and criminal justice systems; involvement with alcohol and/or drugs; difficulties in securing and maintaining accommodation and employment; early parenthood; and, ultimately, a significantly earlier death than others.
Thankfully, this bleak forecast is not inevitable because we also know, again from research, that experience during childhood of a certain type of personal relationship - with just one adult - has the capacity to promote healing and strongly support the development of personal resilience. In fact, for the vast majority of children and young people with experience of difficult early childhoods, there’s good evidence to show that supportive, accepting, non-judging long-term relationships are the single most effective way of developing resilience, especially when these relationships are provided as naturally as possible.
Our growing understanding of the central importance of relationships in preventing difficulties arising, in supporting early effective intervention and, for those who are looked after, in improving the quality of the care experience, is leading to some significant changes across Scotland.
Still though, many looked after children, young people and care leavers tell us that the one thing that would make the biggest difference to them as they grow up is having one person in their life who is there just for them.
Which is why the Scottish Government is establishing a National Mentoring Scheme, to offer open-ended mentoring relationships with trusted, well trained and well supported, adult volunteers to all looked after children and young people. The programme will start by offering these mentoring relationships to those who are aged between 8 – 14 who are looked after while living at home. This group of around 3,500 looked after children and young people currently have the poorest outcomes of all those who are looked after.
I’m both proud and excited to be involved in this work to help ensure our looked after children and young people are provided with the best possible start in their journey to adulthood. Scottish Government has announced that Inspiring Scotland has been awarded the lead delivery and fund manager roles and anticipate advertising for funding applications from local projects in the Autumn of 2016. This will be followed by a recruitment campaign for volunteer mentors, which I would encourage everyone to actively consider. After all, the research tells us that that mentors feel they gain as much from mentoring relationships as mentees do.
The programme is not starting from scratch. Far from it. I’ve been finding out, as a priority, what’s already happening across Scotland, by going and talking to as many of those already involved in providing mentoring and befriending to vulnerable children and young people as I can. To meet with so many passionate people continues to inspire, and I have been struck by just how much all those I have spoken to welcome the chance to work together to share practice and increase the capacity of the sector – so that we can change the lives of many more of the most vulnerable among us.
Bruce is a professional advisor, for mentoring and advocacy, within the Looked After Children Unit of Scottish Government. He’s also a Person-Centred psychotherapist, mentor and coach which directly influences his perspective on relationships.
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