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Relationships outside the family assume an even greater importance as children grow up. As the World Health Organisation highlights: 'Being liked and accepted by peers' is 'crucial to young people's health and development, and those who are not socially integrated are far more likely to exhibit difficulties with physical and emotional health.'
At The Children's Society's Genesis project in South East London, project workers and young people have worked together to create a safe, supportive, inclusive and caring environment that encourages children to develop secure relationships. This is a place where children can seek support for their problems from both their peers and project staff.
A survey conducted by the National Family and Parenting Institute in the UK illustrates that only 56% of children feel they can talk to their parent/s about any problem they may have. This means that the work of the Genesis project is an essential service for children to disclose their problems and aid their development.
A key part of the work at Genesis is a primary and secondary schools project working to develop and promote the inclusion and transition of all children and young people in mainstream education. Opportunities are created for young people to improve school attendance and achievement, make friends, get involved in school initiatives, raise confidence and self-esteem, identify their aspirations and develop a sense of belonging and purpose.
Arriving at the school, we are led to the project 'base', a small room in the school that is covered with pictures, drawings and certificates. Awaiting our arrival are three project workers and a group of five young people. They have just been giving a rating between one and 10 (where 10 is very good) to indicate what their week has been like so far. The scores range from four to nine.
Two of the young people we meet are peer supporters. A peer supporter is a young person who is trained to listen and be a friend to those facing difficulties such as bullying or problems at home. For a child or young person, talking to a peer supporter can be far less daunting than talking to an adult. Because these young people are of a similar age, they can sometimes relate to and understand problems more easily, which means they are also fantastic role models for these young people.
It costs just £3 for resources to train a peer supporter in a secondary school.
Having spoken to these young people about their roles, the bell for lunchtime goes and soon the room is overflowing with young people, chatting and eating. The children here are all socialising with each other, from the youngest to the oldest. This really is a testament to The Children's Society staff who have created this base and are well known at the school for their friendly and patient attitudes. As a year nine student says: ‘The Children’s Society Genesis project is a great place. It has helped me a lot with bullying and has made me more confident than I was before. It has changed my life for the better. It is a wonderful and a life-changing place to be involved at.’
The Genesis project not only provides the peer support programme, but a wide range of programmes and activities, such as group work about behaviour, anger management and self-esteem, a summer scheme, school council involvement, and one-to-one counselling. The project workers use a wide variety of methods to help the young people to deal with their difficulties such as:
All of this work supports young people who are finding the transition from primary to secondary school difficult. As this year six student wrote:
Leaving primary school is very sad
But really it’s not that bad
When you wave and say goodbye
It makes you feel like you want to cry
But now it’s time to move on
I can’t believe how fast this year has gone
If you would like to find out more about the Genesis project, you can visit their project pages.
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