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.


It has become clear during this process that there are potential benefits to developing peer mentors within the "Care System". The potential value for them has been highlighted by the SBC/GYP Borders pilot, current practice involving Looked After Children and/or Care Leavers in "universal/mainstream" services and during discussions with Care Leavers. There is little evidence as yet as to the benefit for a Looked After Children or Care Leaver who might receive such support i.e. mentees. Limited research is available e.g. Care Leavers entering Higher Education In Loco Parentis, Demos 2010 (8)and of mentees being "enthusiastic about having care leavers as peer mentors as the mentees felt that the peer mentors understand their experience" Mentoring for LAC National Pilot Dissemination Manual, April 2008 (9)

i. Given the research available on mentoring and limited information concerning peer mentoring, it is evident that any project seeking to develop Care Leavers and/or Looked After Children as peer mentors requires to be quite clear about the purpose of such a programme and the intended aims in establishing a peer mentor/mentee relationship.

ii. There is the potential to focus on the opportunity peer mentoring provides for Care Leavers/peer mentors whilst neglecting the needs of the Looked After Children or mentee concerned and this must clearly be guarded against.

iii. Some members of the Debate project did recognise that, at certain times in their lives, they would "battle against their peers as well as adults" making them feel that the "age of (potential) mentee might matter."

iv. Offering support at the time of Leaving Care has often been the focus for mentoring projects and some discussions during this work evidenced this as a worthwhile opportunity. However, young people and some professionals have suggested that there might be other critical times when having the support of a "peer mentor" might be beneficial: times of transition, including reception into care (e.g. primary to secondary school, placement moves) and preparing for Looked After Children reviews and Children's Hearings.

v. The optimum duration of any peer mentoring relationship is one area where views and practice are quite varied. Some projects state quite clearly that mentoring relationships are time-limited i.e. for 3 months, then reviewed and may, if appropriate, offer on-going support for another 3 months -these relationships would usually be based on weekly meetings whilst others might meet less frequently. Other projects operate on the basis of the needs of the Looked After Children /Care Leaver, with mentoring relationships lasting for years rather than months. Certainly some Care Leavers were suggesting the potential value of a longer term relationship which might provide continuity and support through periods of change.

vi. The use of social media in the 21st century should also be highlighted as young people recognised that a peer mentoring relationship could be provided without face-to-face contact on every occasion e.g. Facebook, email etc. always ensuring that the required "safety nets" are in place. These issues again underline the need for clarity of role and purpose from the outset of any peer mentoring relationship.

vii. One of the major issues for any project involving Looked After Children /Care Leavers as peer mentors must be the potential for past experiences to be triggered and revisited as reported in the Dissemination Manual (9). The importance of selection, matching and, in particular support processes for mentors cannot be overemphasised, as reported by one ex-Care Leaver who has some direct experience "..I couldn't do my job without this (monthly supervision from worker)"

viii. There is also the potential for Care Leavers to experience periods of change and/or instability in their lives which may make them less available to their mentee (Dissemination Manual) (9). The safety and well-being of both parties must remain paramount and risk management needs to be undertaken during any matching process.

ix. Confidentiality is of some concern to some professionals and was raised as a possible issue by young people who are well aware of the need for this in their own lives. Clear boundaries and communication channels developed through training are seen as crucial to making this work. In some, often rural, local authorities the need for confidentiality and anonymity will have to be balanced with location and availability of the peer mentor.

x. Looked After Children or Care Leavers who are still "in the system" will, as ever, require the support of their social worker, throughcare worker, foster carer and/or residential worker, if they are to be encouraged to develop their potential as a peer mentor. Requirements, such as PVG checks, Parental and Local Authority permissions and procedures, can present barriers which must be kept to a minimum if they are not to be seen as insurmountable.

xi. It should also be said that prior knowledge and experience of a particular Looked After Child or Care Leaver is not always relevant when recruiting peer mentors at a later stage in their lives. Young people and young adults who have reached the stage of reflection with a degree of objectivity are possibly well-placed to offer support.

"They (the young person) might not want to accept help. I was like that. It was only when I realised that the only person I was hurting was myself that I accepted help"(SBC/GYP pilot evaluation) (1)


Email: Eliza Brush

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