Believing in young people changes their world and ours

24th January 2018

Sometimes small innovative changes can have a huge impact on a young persons life. SRN Director Frank Reilly tells us more.

Photograph of SRN Director, Frank Reilly

SRN Director, Frank Reilly

When my son began primary school he was really excited: it was a significant marker in his development. His was a small village school, with a falling roll and composite classes. His teacher was nearing retirement but had a very innovative way of working. She believed in children and that with the right guidance they could create a support structure around one another that would last a lifetime. As a tired parent I was, sadly, quite dismissive when the class began learning listening skills and ‘therapeutic touch’. As a trained counsellor I thought I knew it all and dismissed the approach. ‘5 year olds are too young to learn to listen properly’, I thought, at least not in the way I understood it. Looking back, I am slightly ashamed I thought that, although I wasn’t alone-all too often we dismiss children’s inherent skills of empathy and care. Thankfully I was proved wrong.

The teacher taught the class how to listen, without passing judgement and without trying to ‘fix’ anything, because being heard was what was important. I am pleased to say that this experience has stayed with that cohort of young people who are now entering that difficult and disputed territory of adolescence. They still experience all of the traumas of that period of life- developing relationships, sexuality, boundary testing and developing independence – but they also appear to be more supportive of one another and of other people than I remember being at that time of life. That simple intervention, the belief that teacher had in children, was like a vaccination. It won’t prevent them from being hurt by life and other people but it will help them maintain the connections, hope, identity, meaning and sense of empowerment which are so important for resilience now and recovery later in life.

SRN has traditionally focussed on developing recovery for adults, influencing policy and practice in Scotland and beyond. However, if we are to support a Scotland where mental health is as important as physical health we also need to be able to translate and adapt the learning we have developed over the last 14 years to the needs of children and young people. Just as we know that adults are experts of their own experience, we also must listen to the experiences of children and young people and the organisations that support them to learn and adapt.

SRN now looks to support recovery across the lifecourse, to develop the learning from our partnerships in Adverse Childhood Experiences and trauma informed responses to recovery. We are particularly excited by our early conversations with Barnardos which have established that there are striking similarities between our CHIME model, the pillars of resilience and between our very own Write to Recovery project and journaling for resilience. We have also begun to support organisations such as Children 1st who are developing innovative interventions to prevent young people and their families acquiring an illness identity early on in their lives. Over the course of the next year we expect to build even more national partnerships as well as exploring the opportunities within localities through our network team to explore ways of supporting recovery skills in young people that will be sustainable.

This coming year is exciting and challenging but if we follow the lead of that primary 1 teacher and believe in the capacity of children and young people to show us the way we can and will create supportive communities that we can all be proud of.


SRN supports the Year of Young People. Join the conversation on Twitter using #YOYP2018