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Choosing your friends: Young people’s supporting relationships Jenny Spratt and Kate Philip University of Aberdeen PINS National Seminar: Mental and emotional.

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Presentation on theme: "Choosing your friends: Young people’s supporting relationships Jenny Spratt and Kate Philip University of Aberdeen PINS National Seminar: Mental and emotional."— Presentation transcript:

1 Choosing your friends: Young people’s supporting relationships Jenny Spratt and Kate Philip University of Aberdeen PINS National Seminar: Mental and emotional health and well being in schools – what role for the voluntary sector? 20 th Nov 2008

2 Whose voices? Working with young people This paper explores questions of children’s agency and voice which have recurred as analytical themes from three recent studies undertaken by the Rowan Group at Aberdeen University. Shucksmith, J., Philip, K., Spratt, J. and Watson C.(2005) Investigating the links between mental health and behaviour in schools: a report to SEED. Spratt, J., Philip, K., Shuckmith, J. and Kiger, A. (2008) The role of school nurses In supporting mental health: a report to the National Programme for Improving Mental Health and Well –being. Philip, K., Shucksmith, J. and King C (2004) Sharing a Laugh: a qualitative study of mentoring interventions with young people. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

3 This paper will: Consider the impact of the changing social context on the opportunities for informal relationships between young people and adults Discuss the increase in ‘professional friendships’ designed to support young people experiencing difficulties Explore the opportunities for young people to exercise choice and agency within the support structures available Draw from previous studies undertaken by the authors to identify common themes in young people’s perceptions of meaningful relationships Consider implications for policy and practice

4 Young people’s place in society Structural changes impacting on perceptions about young people - collapse of youth labour market -policy changes (family, education, youth justice) -sharpening of inequalities between different groups of young people Imagery of young people –moral panics (fuelled by media) –youth as a ‘social barometer’? (France, 2007)

5 A perceived loss of ‘informal mentors’ Lack of shared experiences between young people and adults. Decline in natural settings for adults and young people to interact e.g. youth centres / play spaces, clubs and activities (Jeffs and Smith 2005, Valentine et al. 1998). Young people not always welcome in so-called ‘public spaces’ Few opportunities for young people and adults to co-construct relationships based on voluntary association Loss of the collective community guidance of young people (Rhodes, 2003). Decline of the ‘mentor rich’ environment (Freedman 1993).

6 Adult fears of interactions with young people Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People (2007): Adults’ attitudes towards contact with children and young people identified 4 main barriers to adults choosing to interact with young people. Fear of accusations of harming young people Reluctance of men to have contact with young people for fear of suspicion of their motives Fear of teenagers Perceived power of children and young people

7 Growing public concern about young people’s mental health Concerns about the prevalence of poor mental health amongst young people (Green et al 2005) Recognition of the importance of environment for mental health (Curtis 2008) Risk of pathologising normal behaviour and experiences?(Coppock 2002)

8 Cue the ‘professional friend’ In the absence of informal community networks a range of ‘specialists’ now work with young people to support and remediate difficulties (Shucksmith et al, 2005). Counsellors, mental health workers, pupil and family support workers, mentors, support young people through their difficulties. Often, but not always associated with schools Often targeted at certain segments of youth population (Philip and Spratt, 2007). Often being seen to compensate for family inadequacy Frequently seized on as a ‘silver bullet’ to compensate for all (Colley, 2003)

9 In the best interests of the child? Ventriloquism: adults purporting to speak on behalf of children as they act in what they perceive to be in the child’s best interests (Ruddick 2007) Coercive mentoring: tutoring young people to comply with a system that doesn’t meet their needs (Colley 2003)

10 Young People’s right to participation in decisions made about themselves (UNCRC 1989) How can participation be promoted in the context of young people seeking support?

11 Choice and agency in help seeking Who decides? The nature of the problem Whether to seek help From whom to seek help At what level to engage with the service The purpose of the supporting relationship

12 What have our studies shown?..... Young people are strategic –seeking help from different people at different times for different purposes Young people are more comfortable with people with whom they have a ‘natural’ relationship

13 ….What have our studies shown?..... Young people recognise and avoid services that have been stigmatised by referral of ‘problems’ –The bad people go and see her Young people prefer support where they are seen as a ‘person’ and not as a ‘case’

14 ….What have our studies shown? Young people prefer to choose who to speak to rather than being allocated Time limited professional relationships can be problematic

15 Implications for policy and practice In order to honour children’s participation rights we must establish the conditions in which they can be honoured. Mayall (2000: 248)

16 Structure meets agency How can we design our formal interventions to: –allow young people to ‘test out’ before choosing to engage –provide low threshold access to support –avoid labelling and stigmatising those who seek support –offer a range of gateways to support – offer a menu of options (including informal supports) for young people to select how they choose to engage. How can we foster a ‘mentor rich environment’ underpinned by recognition that: –Young people’s well-being is ‘everybody’s business’ (Weare 2004) –Adults working with young people all have a responsibility towards the welfare needs of individuals in their charge, and the potential to respond to a young person’s need for a ‘professional friend’

17 References (1) Colley H (2003) Mentoring for Social Inclusion. London: Routledge. Coppock, V. (2002) Medicalising children’s behaviour in Franklin, B. The New Handbook of Children's Rights. London: Routledge, Curtis, S. (2008) Troubled youth in troubled places? Environmental influences on mental health of adolescents and young adults. Paper given at ESRC seminar, The school as a location for promoting and supporting mental health University of Teesside, April 4th France A (2007) Understanding Youth in Late Modernity. Milton Keynes: Open University Press Freedman, M (1993) The Kindness of Strangers: adult mentors, urban youth and the new voluntarism. San Fransico: Josey Bass.

18 References (2) Green, H., McGinnity, A., Meltzer, H., Ford, T. and Goodman, R (2005) Mental health of children and young people in Great Britain, Basingstoke: Palgrave McMillan. Jeffs T and Smith M, (2005) Informal education, democracy and Learning. London: Heretics Press Mayall, B, (2000) The sociology of childhood in relation to children's rights. The International Journal of Children's Rights 8 (3), Philip K and Spratt J (2007) A synthesis of published research on mentoring and befriending. Manchester: Mentoring and Befriending Foundation. Rhodes J (2003) Stand By Me. Boston: Harvard University Press.

19 References (3) Ruddick S (2007) At the Horizons of the Subject: neo-liberalism, neo- conservatisem and the rights of the child part 2: parent, caregiver, state. Gender, Place and Culture, 14 (6) Valentine T, Skelton C and Chambers D (1998) Cool Places: an introduction to youth culture in Valentine T and Skelton C (eds) Cool Places: geographies of youth cultures. London: Routledge Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People (2007) Adults’ attitudes towards contact with children and young people. Edinburgh: Rocket Science. Weare K (2004) Developing the Emotionally Literate School. London: Sage.


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