BREAKTHROUGH: £1m project will offer mentoring to vulnerable Dundee kids

The launch of BREAKTHROUGH

A bold and innovative £1 million scheme has been launched which aims to harness the skills of men and women across Dundee and give a crucial boost to disadvantaged children.

Secondary-aged youngsters who are vulnerable or have been in care are to get one-to-one mentoring designed to improve their academic performance and to support them in achieving a positive destination after they leave school.

The programme kicks-off at Morgan Academy this month and will begin at a second school, St Paul’s RC Academy, in October. It is intended that all eight of Dundee’s secondary schools will be involved in the programme by 2019, supporting up to 500 young people.

A pool of fully-trained mentors will be recruited from local companies and Dundee’s wider community to be matched appropriately to the young people.

Ellis Watson, chairman of BREAKTHROUGH Dundee and executive chairman of DC Thomson Publishing, said: “BREAKTHROUGH is an incredible charitable initiative that specifically targets the 500 care-experienced and other vulnerable young people, identified by the social care system, in Dundee’s secondary schools.

“Without radical intervention, statistics demonstrate that some of these young people will falter in life and fail.

“We have spent the last few years developing this programme. From recruiting professional youth workers to planning mentoring from the community and creating powerful work experience sessions, we believe we have devised a potentially life-changing programme.

“To achieve this, we have been fortunate to have taken the most effective parts of other schemes both in and out of Scotland, and worked closely with the city council, their social work and education departments and sought input from experts on developing young talent.”

The model for BREAKTHROUGH Dundee has been developed by the executive and board of DC Thomson, inspired by the success of MCR Pathways, a similar programme in Glasgow. The implementation stage of the programme will be fully funded from August 2017 until July 2020 by the Northwood Charitable Trust.

A dedicated BREAKTHROUGH Dundee co-ordinator will be appointed for each secondary school in Dundee. In school weekly group sessions will take place for those in S1-S2, with matched 1:1 weekly sessions with mentors from S3 onwards.

Throughout the programme, young people will have opportunities to attend BREAKTHROUGH-2 sessions to gain inspiration, further education and experiences.

Dundee City Council leader John Alexander said: “We hope to harness the energy, talent and enthusiasm of mentors from Dundee to help deliver life-changing opportunities for those who volunteer to be part of this initiative.”

‘Being in care poses so many challenges’, by Ellis Watson

Chairman Ellis Watson

The journey that finally gave me the focus for this charity is a very personal one.

A very, very brave 15-year-old Scottish mother gave birth to me 49 years ago. Born in this part of the world in 1967, statistically, I’d have had a 4% chance of having a drug or alcohol addiction, a 6% chance of being incarcerated, a 15% chance of being long-term unemployed and a worryingly low chance of making it to the age that I am today. I was lucky.

The average young person follows a straight-forward path throughout life.

They’ve a good home life, mates and an education system to make the most of their potential. For some, though, their journey isn’t this easy as they grow up with exposure to abuse, addictions, chaotic lifestyles, or in terrible poverty. Many end-up being looked after by the care system.

The harsh facts show if you’ve been exposed to the care system, the challenges you’ve got to overcome mean you’re much, much less likely to reach your potential. It’s not that the care system itself does the damage, but it acts as a flag to identify young people who have more challenges than most to overcome.

Let’s start with school. Young people need a minimum level of qualifications to have half a chance in life — to help find a job, or go into further education. Care-experienced young people simply don’t achieve this.

In Scotland, two thirds of young people will achieve National five for both literacy and numeracy, but for Dundee’s care-experienced it’s just 15%. If you’re a young person who’s experienced the care system, you’re four times less likely to get to this basic standard.

Of the average Scottish school leaver, 40% go straight to university, yet only 4% of previously looked-after children go. If you do go straight from school to try to get a job, the stats show that you’re half as likely to get a job as a once-care-experienced person in Dundee than average. We’re all born with the same potential, but it’s much harder to realise if you’ve been exposed to some of these outside challenges.

‘Idea is to be a guide’

Lorraine Smith

One of those who has already signed-up to be a mentor is Lorraine Smith.

The 45-year-old from Inchture said: “I suppose I grew up in a regular, stable family and so I want to give something back.

“I have children myself now and if we can help motivate a young person who has been in care, motivate them to stay in education or move on to further education or even a job this can only be a positive thing.

“My background is in financial/admin and once I’ve finished training, I’ll be working with someone in S3 or S4.

“My experience, personality and skills will be assessed to enable me to be paired with the right person and the actual one-to-one sessions will take place in school, one hour per week.

“It’s an opportunity to keep them encouraged and whilst this is the primary motivation, naturally you’re going to have empathy with the circumstances the young people are in.

“The idea is to be a help, to be a guide, if you like, offer advice but always remembering that they’re making the choices.”

BREAKTHROUGH Dundee is going to follow a tried and tested formula. Working with the City Council, the programme is going to recruit and train BREAKTHROUGH mentors — some are already being trained.

The people needed have to be 21+ and someone who

n cares about young people and their futures

n is a good listener

n is committed and consistent

n is non-judgmental

What mentors do:

n Commit to give one hour a week plus travel time to mentor a young person in school during term time, for a minimum of a year, ideally two

n Build a relationship and be a trusted confidante

n Share life experiences

n Identify strengths and explore possibilities

n Raise aspirations and expectations

n Empower young people to create the futures they want for themselves