Circle of Friends

Circle of Friends for a Young Person

I would like to share a heart-warming story. It was warm October afternoon in a city primary school. I arrived to initiate a circle of friends for a young person (Year 6) in public care. The young person had been living in a city community home for only a few weeks and was struggling to cope in school particularly in relation to his behaviour and social skills. The usual list of challenging behaviours that adults and other young people find difficult to understand and manage. The whole class session was a dream – very responsive staff and pupils. The small group session was one of the best I have had the privilege to be part of because of the way the young person (lets call him George) shared his feelings.

The volunteers for the support circle met with the young person after a brief playtime and his joy and excitement was obvious for all of us to see (he had been very positive about us trying this approach). George was very engaged and wanting to talk. He said “I saw you at my unit last night” I responded with “Yes you did, are you happy for the people in this group to know about where you are living?” George said he was but he wanted them to keep it secret so he would not be name called about it saying “I don’t want people saying you spend more time in school than you do with your Mum!” He was clearly upset by his current circumstances and wanted me to explain what the community home was like (he clearly felt unable to do this without help).

I began to tell the group about how many people lived at the community home and George began to join in. He explained how difficult things were for him with evident distress inn his voice. He talked about the boy in the room next to him keeping him awake until the early hours of the morning by making lots of noise including continually banging on his wall. He said “It is the worst place really” and told everyone how tired he felt and that he really needed to be able to talk about things, especially when he had had a bad time. The first task for the group members was agreed straight away – they would all be willing to listen to George! A small thing in the scheme of things maybe but an essential need for George.

We all gratefully received a cup of tea/coffee from the SENCo (really nice cosy feeling on soft chairs in the staff room) and went on to agree the next targets and strategies for the week as follows:

  • George wants to be able to talk to people in the group about home, especially when he as had a bad time. All the group said they would listen and keep information about George’s home confidential – i.e. not tell other pupils about it.
  • George wants to improve his handwriting and presentation. The SENCo is going to look at his handwriting and give some pointers on how to improve it. John and Jason would like George to sit on their table so they can help him more (give hints but not answers) and they will ask their teacher if this can happen more often. (Teacher agreed to this)
  • George would like people to play with at break time. John suggested taking turns to play with George. Tomorrow they will play ‘bulldog’ together and next Thursday they will teach George how to play timeball. Melissa said it would be good for the group to sit with George at lunchtime and is going to try and work this out amongst them.
  • The group of friends felt that George needs to learn not to join in with Mark or copy him. They will all try to remind him to be good by using the OK sign. Melissa will explain the signal to their teacher so he knows what is going on.

At the end of the session there was a very positive and warm feeling in the room which was reflected by their final comments:

“Terrific”

Melanie

“Really good”

Rose

“Brilliant”

Julia

“Positive – you are going to do well”

Jason

“You are going to succeed”

John

“I liked to help – good”

Simon

George responded with “Good – well better!” As he left the room he turned to me with a big smile and said “Thank-you”.

I had the feeling that the staff and pupils involved would do everything they possible could to make things better for George. He will meet weekly with the SENCo and his group of trusted friends. They will choose a name for the group and I will have the privilege of returning in a few weeks to review how things have gone – lucky me!

I am continually amazed at the power of this tool for inclusion!

Jackie Dearden

Senior Educational Psychologist (Children in Public Care)

Tuesday, 23 October 2001

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