close up of a boy wearing grey hoodie listening to an advice of his teacher in front of him

When a young person is having a hard time with their mental health, they will often first reach out to an adult in their life.

This research project is the first step in YoungMinds’ broader strategic goal of understanding adults and the work they do to support young people with their mental health and wellbeing.

This research defines a young person as someone who is under 25. The lower limit of what makes a young person, for this research project, is someone in their early teens. Due to ethical considerations, this research project focused on older young people. The research comes with two distinct objectives:

To produce a youth-led definition of what a trusted adult is.

This will not only comprise of characteristics, but also detail the outcomes and benefits that young people gain from these relationships.

To validate and expand on the youth-led definition of a trusted adult with youth workers.

Using this definition, and drawing on youth workers’ own experiences, this research will make a series of recommendations on what tools adults need to support young people with their mental health and wellbeing.

The research project has a particular focus on the perspectives of Black and minoritised people, as a group traditionally underserved by existing mental health services. This is a broad term but is intended to represent a range of minoristised communities including (but not exclusively) Black
African, Black Caribbean, Asian, Gyspy, Roma and Jewish.

The project used a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods to gather data and evidence, with fieldwork conducted by Eido Research.

A definition of a trusted adult

What is a trusted adult?

A trusted adult is chosen by the young person as a safe figure that listens without judgment, agenda or expectation, but with the sole purpose of supporting and encouraging positivity within a young person’s life.

Where and who are trusted adults

A student sitting at a desk looking amused while taking notes

Trusted adults are not adults who have been assigned to young people through a formal programme, but instead are adults who young people have independently chosen to trust.

Young people found trusted adults in a range of settings, including in their local youth club, in pastoral teams in schools, in their extended family or in places of worship.

In general, teachers were not viewed as trusted adults, perhaps because the structures and expectations of education impact on their ability to build these types of relationships with students.

Characteristics of a trusted adult

  • Coming with no expectations

    Coming with no expectations of what young people will achieve or how they will behave.

  • Being non-judgemental

    Being non-judgemental and refraining from trying to 'fix' a young person; instead trusted adults help young people to work through issues in their own way.

  • Having clear boundaries

    Ensuring relationships with young people have clear boundaries and limits. Trusted adults should understand when a situation extends beyond their skillset.

  • Being a good listener

    Being a good listener, using silence to give young people space to open up and guide conversations.

  • Prioritising honesty

    Prioritising honesty, asking hard questions when necessary and being vulnerable with young people.

  • Being reliable

    Being reliable, through making themselves available to young people and engaging with them in a consistent way.