Beth Thomas: “Mentoring is often one piece of a much larger puzzle”

Beth Thomas, manager at Our Place Mentoring Scheme discusses why mentoring matters, even more so in an increasingly faster-changing world.
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A recent report published by the Guardian suggests that over a third of children and young people have been denied mental health support through the NHS. Unfortunately, this statistic is only the tip of the iceberg and a small reflection of the struggles of children and young people when it comes to their mental health and wellbeing.

Like many others with lived experience, I fell into the work that I do with the aim of preventing others going through the struggles that I did. I will never forget being locked in a store cupboard by my head of year at school. He would lock me in at lunchtime with no food, sat staring at old textbooks and cleaning supplies. In some type of public shaming ritual, he also used to make me stand on stage during assembly with my back turned towards hundreds of my peers. I ended up having a truancy officer who would pick me up and escort me to school each morning, reciting the same old lecture of how important learning was and berating me for making poor choices with my schooling.

However, if either had taken the time out to ask, they would have seen more than just a tearaway teen who was angry and pushing out against the system. They would have realised that I was a vulnerable child in need of safeguarding and intervention. To put things into perspective, by the age of 16 I was living in my first youth hostel. Whilst I struggled with my mental health from childhood, four years in such accommodations made me extremely ill and when I moved out, I was so institutionalised I was scared to even leave my room let alone go out into the ‘real world’. However, without sounding cliché, being the person, I wish I had when I was younger really changed my life.

Joining Our Place Support CIC 11 years ago and developing the Our Place Mentoring Scheme has been such a powerful tool in my own personal journey. Mentoring is all about connections. A mentor explores how others see the world and introduces tools and strategies tailored to that individual that can help them reach their goals as well as overcoming barriers and challenges that they may face. It is about consistency, stability, boundaries, the management of expectations, the building of trust, providing a safe, confidential spaces and most importantly, validation.

We currently live in a time where we are seeing the major fallout that years of funding cuts and COVID have had on vital youth services. Children, young people and their families face excruciatingly long waiting lists for statutory interventions, increasingly high thresholds, endless referrals and assessments, and revolving doors of professionals, meaning that they are continuously getting lost in a fragile and broken system. With so much pressure on the NHS I think many of us agree that there has been a significant shift in the roles that third sector organisations when it comes to supporting children and young people.

The Our Place Mentoring Scheme continues to experience this first hand. For example, when we first started our mentoring model was very much focused on prevention, supporting primary aged children on issues such as friendship, self-esteem, family breakdown and loss. Nowadays we are in a number of education and community settings supporting children and young people with issues such as anxiety, low moods, self-harm, suicidal ideation and behaviours; and those at risk or experiencing exploitation and harm. We acknowledge that mentoring is often one piece of a much larger puzzle, therefore, a crucial part of our service is to also work alongside other third sector organisations and statutory services to provide holistic support for children, young people and their families.

Research consistently tells us that early intervention is key in preventing mental health and wellbeing from escalating. Therefore, we need to put things in place for children and young people way before they are reaching crisis point like so many are. I truly believe that mentoring should be a key part of this. Although I can only speculate how different my life would have been if I had access to a mentor as a child or teen. From my time where I was a mentor going into schools, to where I am now, managing an amazing team across different mentoring projects, I have seen hundreds and thousands of cases where mentoring has had a profound effect on the wellbeing of children and young people.

“Every child deserves a champion—an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.” – Rita Pearson.

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