The word ‘relationship’ can be an emotive one in the care sector, as it has long been perceived as a negative, something that should be avoided and can even be considered inappropriate when related to children and young people who have experience of the care system. However, we cannot do our jobs without relationships, and we can only better support our children and young people if we have strong relationships with them. Our work is relational, and can only be done with a relational approach. Being able to tell and show a young person you care about them has long been discouraged within the social and care sector however this is now changing, albeit slowly at times. When talking about relationships with young people, professionals are often concerned about safeguarding and how the relationship would be perceived by employers and peers. Research has shown that the more open a relationship the safer it can be. We also have to weigh up the potential risks of young care leavers not having any strong relationships with the important adults in their life. This should not hold you back from supporting a young person but should give pause as to how this can best be achieved to keep everyone safe while enabling a healthy and reliable relationship. There are organisations that can support this and ways in which continued contact and support can be done through an open, person-led approach. You may be one of the only people the young person trusts or feels close to, and this is so important to their moving on from care and subsequent progression through life.
There is considerable research that evidences that moving on from care is a time of high risk for care leavers, and positive relationships can provide essential support to help ensure a successful transition to interdependence. The Promise brings to the forefront that children have a right to relationships and that we all have a responsibility to ensure they can access the relationships they need. In our job roles we will not, and cannot get the best out of ourselves or those we work with without strong relationships. Getting to know young people enables better support and a more tailored, individual approach and understanding of them as a person, not as part of a system. It can help respond to emotional and psychological need and it can help recognise changes in behaviour in a young person you know well. Care experience young people are vulnerable to abusive and volatile relationships – your relationship with them could be the positive influence they need to better manage and understand relationships. You can help a young person understand what relationships can mean and look like – different contexts, different types, how do they manifest. Care leavers are more likely to experience toxic relationships – need help to respond to emotional need, calm potential conflict. Safe, stable relationships help young people build attachment, develop self-confidence and esteem, resilience, in addition to helping them build trust in adults again. They can learn positive relational experiences as opposed to previous negative experiences and trauma. By building a strong connection with someone you could also create a much-needed sense of belonging and identity. It is well documented that young people who experience positive relationships achieve better long-term outcomes, care leavers deserve the same opportunities. Having strong, trusted relationships in their lives will only enhance their wellbeing.
You should develop your own understanding of what relationships mean in the context of your work in supporting young care leavers and how this can positively influence their life. Be open and honest at all times and work to build mutual trust and respect. We advise you to discuss relationships with your supervisor or peers, and if continuing a relationship beyond your professional boundaries that you ensure everyone is kept safe by agreeing boundaries and expectations. There are organisations who can offer support to continuing relationships and provide a framework to let the relationship develop and grow safely.
You should also read The Promise. If you have not already done so, it is an extremely important policy guide which is informing much needed changes within the wider care system across Scotland. Relationships are a key focus, and it will play a significant role in improving how Scotland’s children and young people are cared for going forward.
Relationships are an important part of everyone’s life. For example, everything we learn as children depends on others teaching us. But did you know that good relationships also have an influence on our physical and mental health (Griffith, 2017)? Relationship-based practice combines what we know about childhood development, trauma, resilience, and relationships to promote the best for children and adolescents.
Early life experiences shape our mind and body in ways that we are understanding more and more, especially when these experiences are traumatic. Trauma-informed practice takes this knowledge and creates a holistic framework for practitioners and organisations to create healing and safe spaces and ways of working.
First introductions matter. It matters when, how and where they happen. Many young people speak about transitions are often the most difficult times. In this Guide we explore how transitions can be done from the lens of relational practice.
What do IT systems and relationships have in common? Both usually run in the background and are easily taken for granted. Perhaps surprisingly, IT systems can have a big influence on the quality of relationships and relational practice in general.
When you know your goal you do whatever you need to do to reach it. But what if you defined the goal in the wrong way? In this Guide we explore how the goal affects your actions and how you can make sure that you are measuring your success in the right way. Are you meeting an outcome or are you filling a need?
One of the first things you learn when you start your job is when you need to arrive and when you need to leave. Have you ever considered that the pattern of your work affects the relationships you are building?
Organisational values influence the working culture. They can inspire workers to follow the organisation's mission. However, for them to have an impact they need to be developed with staff and young people.
It is important to keep learning and growing. Recognise your staff’s value and expertise by developing internal training and discussion sessions. Enable staff to learn and train more. Training should not be a tick-box exercise but a place for growth and reflection.
As is often said, hurt people hurt people – it is even more important to consider the flipside: supported people support people. Working with young people and caring for them can be a demanding role, especially in under-resourced and stressful environments. A truly relational organisation also invests in the relationships between managers and staff, creating a positive environment for everyone.
Relationships do not just depend on one person, but rather on a network of people and the culture of an organisation. Sometimes one person who simple ‘doesn’t get it’ can put barriers in the way for an entire team to become less relational. So, it’s easy to see why recruiting the right people is so important to create and maintain a relational organisation.
All relationships take time and effort to build and develop relationships with young people with care experience is no exception, perhaps being even more difficult due to their backgrounds however with the right understanding and approach you could develop a strong and positive connection which will benefit both you and your young person.