Peer Mentoring Opportunities for Looked After Children and Care Leavers

This report and its recommendations are the result of a small project exploring services offering and

research around peer mentoring and how such practice could be developed to improve outcomes for Looked After Children and Care Leavers in Scotland.


i. A review of published research " A Synthesis of published research on mentoring and befriending"(2) by Philip and Spratt in 2007 evidences well the challenges that are posed by seeking to define mentoring and/or befriending and thus the ability to effectively evaluate such interventions (Executive Summary)

ii. The description and terminology used depends, not surprisingly, on the project concerned, its purpose, aims and objectives and the role of the "supportive relationship" in meeting these. A useful diagram "The difference between Mentoring & Befriending" (3) developed by Befriending Network Scotland (BNS),Scottish Mentoring Network (SMN) and Evaluation Support Scotland (ESS), demonstrates, as a continuum, the role and tasks of these relationships which can help clarify their purpose and focus.

iii. Peer mentoring is less well-defined in literature and is again open to interpretation by the project or organisation concerned. Most projects would appear to utilise the term "peer" to mean "of similar age" e.g. S5/6 pupils providing mentoring/role model to younger child, S1/2.

iv. Other current practice examples of "peer mentoring" suggest that older youth/young adults who have themselves benefitted from support provided by a particular project, want to "give something back" due to the value they place on the service they received e.g. Xplore (Dundee) and the Aberdeen Foyer.

v. During discussions and reading for this work, the opportunities suggested within the term "peer mentoring" included: providing 1: 1 support (befriending and mentoring); peer led group work; peer education, coaching or tutoring; and participation/service development activities. As a "catch all" the term "peer support" might better be used to encompass this range of roles/tasks.

vi. In the context of "Peer Mentoring" for Looked After Children and/or Care Leavers, the views of the latter and most professionals, suggest that the "shared experience of being in care" is the single most important factor in identifying the target groups offering support to and receiving support from their peers. "we've been where you are…we know what it's like" (Care Leaver); "to help young people who are going through what I did" (ex- Care Leaver).

vii. Mentoring relationships are, in the main, established to provide 1:1 support and this "definition" is shared by most of those, including young adults and Care Leavers, who were consulted during this process. Understanding the context and purpose of this role, particularly with "peers", is where diversity and flexibility arise e.g. 1:1 relationships can be supported/developed in the early stages through group activities and/or at drop in sessions.

viii. Establishing a "definition" of Peer Mentoring for Looked After Children/Care Leavers at this stage would therefore seem almost impossible and probably not beneficial. However it seems important to establish some common ground to help characterise a Peer Mentoring relationship. Notwithstanding the discussion above, the two significant elements would appear to be:

  1. there is a 1:1 relationship based on a shared experience, which is that both parties have been or are looked after (this is not to suggest that children and young people's experiences of the "care system" are all the same when patently each is unique to the individual and will remain so) and
  2. the relationship will be entered into voluntarily.

ix. This is not to ignore other support mechanisms as suggested in 3. iv but if meaningful or effective evaluation is to be undertaken then some parameters need to be agreed in order to establish a baseline for any comparative study. The confidence-building and skills development of any Looked After Child or Care Leaver interested in offering "peer support" should be encouraged and utilised as is meaningful and appropriate to them.


Email: Eliza Brush

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