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How to discuss a student’s home life with them

How can we help young people to understand the pressures they face in their home life? This article looks at ways to help.
Boy sitting on bed in bedroom

As the nation came to a standstill in 2020, thousands were either directed to work from home, furloughed, or in many cases made unemployed.

These changes will have placed an enormous financial and psychological strain on many families, changing family dynamics and potentially exacerbating tension within the family home.

The home life of students

Between 2018-19, the Department of Work and Pensions recorded that 4.2 million children, 30% of all children in the UK, were living in poverty. To put that into context, 9 children in a class of 30 are said to live in poverty.

In 2020, more than 2 in 5 families fell into poverty due to the changes in the job market, meaning that the figures mentioned above are likely to have increased.

Negative coping strategies

Research has shown that stressors to parents and carers, such as financial insecurity and an increase in multiple responsibilities such as child care, work and supporting family members who may be ill, can result in the use of negative coping strategies.

Research also suggests that a combination of increased responsibilities, negative coping strategies and a reduction in support are linked to child maltreatment. This makes the discussion about the young person’s living conditions a potentially sensitive one.

How to help students

To help, it may be worth using a discussion of the student’s emotional wellbeing as a segue into a discussion of their home life.

Asking the right questions

For instance, asking a student about how they cope with stress can lead to questions regarding the emotional support that they have at home.

This provides space for the young person to talk about the relationships and dynamics at home. You might use the following questions to help open up this portion of the conversation:

When you are feeling down at home, who can you turn to?”

“Do you feel supported at home?”

“If you needed help with your homework, is there someone within the house that could help?”

Identifying whether the young person you are working with has adequate space and resources would also be useful information to gather.
This portion of the conversation could be introduced a little earlier, namely during the discussion of peer interactions. Information regarding how the young person has or has not been able to maintain contact with their friends can provide some insight into the resources they have available to them, without being too intrusive.
Use questions like:
“Have you been able to keep in contact with your friends through social media?”

These will enable support workers to gain valuable information about two aspects of a young person’s world.

Understanding the pressures they face

For those who work closely with young carers, you are likely to be aware of the immense pressure these young people are under generally juggling school commitments with their duties as carers.

Lockdown pressures

These pressures have been compounded by the national lockdown. In a survey of 1000 young carers across the UK, 52% of young people reported feeling overwhelmed, stressed and suffered a decline in mental health during the lockdown back in 2020.

A third of the young carers also reported that they were struggling to look after themselves in regards to sleep, eating habits and exercise.

Caring responsibilities

Research conducted by Carers.org also revealed that 15% of carers reported that school and individual teachers have helped them cope with life since the beginning of the pandemic.

Given the above information, it is essential to identify students who are acting as carers and establish how the young person has coped with their caring responsibilities. We also need to inquire about the external support they have been able to access during the lockdown.

Carers.org have produced materials that schools can use to re-engage young carers with their learning as schools reopen.

If you’d like to learn more about supporting youth mental health, check out the full online course, from the Mental Health Foundation, below.

This article is from the free online

Youth Mental Health: Supporting Young People Using a Trauma Informed Practice

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