`They are trying so hard to hold it all together'

25th April 2014 at 01:00
New family mediation scheme aims to cut youth homelessness

"Mostly me and my mum were just shouting and bawling at each other. It was pointless but it happened multiple times a week until I went to my guidance teacher and told her things weren't good at home."

The benefits of mediation for this 15-year-old boy are clear as he explains calmly, with confidence and humour, how a referral from school helped to prevent his relationship with his mother from reaching breaking point.

However, nearly 6,000 young people are made homeless in Scotland each year by family breakdowns. A recent survey by the homelessness charity Edinburgh Cyrenians revealed that half of all professionals who work with children and families feel they lack the skills or knowledge to offer support, despite 83 per cent believing it is part of their job. Now the charity has launched the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR), through which it is offering teachers and other education staff free training, support and resources to help them save more children in crisis from ending up on the streets.

The Cyrenians are calling on employees across the sector to take advantage of seminars, conferences and workshops that can be tailor-made to suit their needs. Information packs are being sent to every high school in the country.

Diane Marr, network development manager at the SCCR, said: "We want teachers and other professionals to tell us what they need. We will be holding seminars and conferences around Scotland but we can also come into schools to deliver training based on what they request."

Research commissioned by the Cyrenians also revealed that one in four young people thought about leaving home at least once a month, with 61 per cent reporting weekly arguments. Experts have warned that although mediation is a proven method of keeping families together, it is often introduced too late, resulting in children being thrown out of their homes or running away.

But it could be hard for teachers and other staff to spot the signs that pupils were having serious problems at home, Ms Marr explained. "With some people you can clearly see there is a problem, but with others it's incredible what they can hide," she said.

"Often no one knows there is a problem because they are trying so hard to hold it all together. We're trying to reduce the stigma [of seeking help] and stop pupils feeling frightened of speaking to teachers because they fear social workers will be involved, and that parents will feel they are failing. We want to normalise mediation."

The centre was established earlier this month by the Edinburgh Cyrenians thanks to almost pound;500,000 of funding from the Scottish government. The SCCR's remit includes holding five national conferences, 20 seminars and 40 training events across Scotland, alongside local training as required. It will also share resources and ideas through a new interactive website.

Derek McWhirter, depute head in charge of pupil support at Kirkland High School in Fife, agreed that training was needed.

He said: "I can remember one case in recent history which ended up with a pupil becoming homeless and it was pretty new to us. If we could signpost young people to the right place maybe that could stop them from becoming homeless."

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