Every year, more than 10,000 young people leave care and many are thrust into the adult world before they are ready, facing a life without the support of family and friends that so many of us take for granted.
To tackle the issue, National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS), a local charity supporting care-experienced children and young people across England and Wales, have created “SidebySide”, a pioneering mentoring programme designed to support care leavers and help them navigate the challenges of transitioning to independent living. The impact of having been in care does not end at 18, 21 or even 25. It is a continuous lifetime experience that can have lasting effects.
The programme has been informed by the NYAS Care Leavers Forum – a group of care-experienced young people who are working with NYAS to help improve the experience of care leavers in the UK, and aims to help young people to bridge the gap between leaving care and finding their own way in the world, providing a broad range of support and mentoring.
The programme is currently being piloted in Wirral as part of Wirral Council’s robust care leaver offer, and will support up to 15 local young people with a plan to develop and expand nationally.
Each young person is matched with a volunteer mentor who will support their transition out of care by reducing isolation and enabling young people to learn new skills to live independently. The support on offer to young people taking part in the scheme will include access to a dedicated SidebySide volunteer to support them for a minimum of 12 months; up to 10 hours of advocacy support, if required, from a NYAS qualified and independent advocate; access to the NYAS freephone helpline in the evenings and weekends for support and/or signposting and access to a skills and interests bursary up to the value of £500. The young people work closely with a NYAS project co-ordinator to choose their personal mentor based on shared interest, skills and life experience.
Mentors and mentees will meet at least twice a month to work on any goals that the young person may have. Volunteer mentors will also be contactable when a crisis occurs and will be supported to help the young person through any issues that arise. Most importantly, they will also be there to celebrate any achievements they may have, just as a parent or friend would do.
The SidebySide project will help young people feel more engaged in their life choices and decisions, more confident to make good choices for themselves, and feel supported both emotionally and practically. The effects of mentoring for young people can lead to better mental health, decreased anxiety and depression, and better self-esteem. So far, with the help of her volunteer, one young woman involved in the programme who had not left the house for six months during the pandemic has built up the confidence to get back out to the shops for essentials.
SidebySide Project Co-ordinator Paula Baker said, “Young people who have enrolled onto the SidebySide programme are some of the most resilient and compassionate young people, and they deserve the same chances at success as any other. I’m thankful that they put their trust in SidebySide and have allowed us to offer our help and support. Living independently for the first time can be daunting for many of us, and we want to make sure young people know they have support when they need it.
“Our fantastic volunteers make such a positive impact on the young people’s lives and become a role model by supporting them to achieve their goals. I am looking forward to seeing the relationships develop between the volunteers and the young people, and I am hoping that these relationships will continue throughout their lives.”
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