This week is Children’s Mental Health Week and the theme ‘let’s connect’ really resonates with us at Chance UK as building relationships with the children we work with is key. There’s also never been a more important time to focus on building strong and positive relationships in a child’s life as we near the three year anniversary of the start of lockdown, when many children were isolated at home, cut off from their friends and daily routines. Our youth workers are still seeing the impact of that time, with one telling me that some of the children she sees are still fearful of travelling or being in more populated areas. New figures from the charity Place2Be also reveals that nearly 78% of the children they see experience anxiety in social situations. So, it’s important that we intervene early and support children so that they can go on to thrive in our communities.
At Chance UK, building a positive relationship with a child during the time we mentor them has always been at the centre of our work. The children we see have often faced a lot of challenges in their life such as the loss of a loved one, domestic abuse at home as well as experiencing emotional and behavioural difficulties. So those first few meetings between our youth workers and the children we support is all about building a connection and building trust. One of our youth workers Sofia reflected on that recently:
“My days are so different depending on which child I am seeing because I will plan an activity that they enjoy so that they feel relaxed and we can start to build a relationship. With some of the youngest children we might do some art and that way I can use their drawings to start to talk about how they are feeling and what’s going on for them.”
Another youth worker Robin shared that:
“What works with one child may not work with another. It’s about building a rapport with that child based on what they like doing. One ten year old boy was passionate about football so we used some of the things you do in football to help him think about how to cope with his emotions.”
There has been much research that highlights the importance of a trusted relationship if a service that supports a vulnerable child is to be successful. We see that every day at Chance UK and it’s why we always focus on building a bond right from the start. At the end of our mentoring sessions we often hear from parents and carers about how that mentor relationship has changed things for their child. One mum told us her daughter seemed much more aware of her emotions and feelings, and was engaging more with her peers. She was also starting to initiate cuddles, which had not really happened before. Another child told us that she was starting to make friends at school.
We know that the positive belief that our mentors have in the children they work with can be life changing and one thing that children and their families often raise with me is the difference that this positive relationship can make to everyone involved. One mum highlighted how most of the time the calls and feedback she got about her child was all about the negative things that had happened or the thing that had gone wrong for them that day. Having a mentor come back from weekly sessions and share the fun they had had together and how persistent or helpful the child had been that week helped the whole family to feel more positive and the child to believe in their strengths again.
This week we will be holding one of our ‘graduation’ evenings for the children we’ve supported, along with their mentors and their families and I’m always struck by the warmth of the relationship our youth workers have with their mentees. I’ll leave you with the words of our youth worker Robin, who shared recently:
“That moment when a child starts to become more comfortable and talks to me is always brilliant. It’s why I joined Chance UK because I wanted to use my skills to support children and help them see their potential.”
Geethika Jayatilaka, CEO