Skip to main content

Relationships for children in care

The value of mentoring and befriending

Children need positive relationships with at least one trusted adult who can be relied upon to provide practical and emotional support wherever they are placed.

A consistent finding from research by NEF and a host of others in the areas of children in care, vulnerable young people, and criminal justice, is that strong, supportive relationships based on mutual caring and trust can make all the difference to someone’s life and life outcomes.

For most people, bonds with family and friends underpin well-being and resilience to life’s challenges. Yet these are precisely the bonds that are often lacking for some of the most vulnerable children, including those in the care of the state.

Attachment theory provides the foundation for understanding objectively that a relationship with a significant adult is essential for healthy emotional and cognitive development for children and young people. And for disadvantaged children the presence of a trusted adult tends to be associated with better outcomes. But formal systems of support often struggle to respond well to this need. One reason is that it demands flexibility that is difficult to plan and control for.

In seeking to explore this issue NEF undertook research to examine the extent to which mentoring and befriending approaches could potentially help fill a gap in meaningful personal relationships for children in care. This is relevant to a wider context discussed in research and policy papers which calls for a child-centred approach to the care system which makes space for and takes account of children’s voices.