As a result of these findings, this report recommends the following course of action:

  • Youth-led responses

    We found that there is a strong appetite among youth workers to be the trusted adults young people deserve, but there is also a need for more training, support and guidance to do this. Youth workers told us that young people “need to co-create and help deliver the training.”

  • Specific support for Black and minoritised young people

    Young people from Black and minoritised backgrounds told us that they struggled to find trusted adults, so a focus should be to work with these groups specifically to enable to them to find this support.

  • Easier referral pathways

    There is a huge amount of support available to youth workers and young people to help with their mental health. The challenge is accessing it. A recommendation is to seek to make accessing support easier and more straightforward, through putting together a guide to referring young people, or managing an up-to-date directory of mental health and wellbeing providers.

  • Cheerleading good mental health

    It needs to be consistently remembered that youth workers, as trusted adults, take on a lot of emotion, distress and upset from the young people they work with. Therefore, more should be done to protect the mental health of trusted adults, so they can role model good mental health to the young people they support.

  • Focused on early intervention support

    A common concern raised by youth workers is that they are not sufficiently trained in mental health. This report recommends the development of training that promotes good mental health in young people, which includes a strong focus on identifying and understanding the early warning signs, specifically for youth workers.

  • Emboldening peer support

    Many young people we spoke to said that their best friend was their trusted adult or that if they had a problem, friends would be the first person they would speak to. This report recommends embracing this peer-led support, through targeted campaigns and the development of resources.

  • Changing the narrative through partnership

    A key finding of the report was that trusted adult relationships
    thrived where community support was behind them. It is important
    to convene organisations and coordinate networking opportunities so that local groups can better support one another and ultimately improve outcomes for young people.

Conclusion

wide-shot-of-a-five-young-people-standing-and-looking-in-front-of-the-camera-with-trees-on-the-background

The mental health crisis that is brewing among young people needs our attention.

The evidenced rise in young people needing formal mental health treatment, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the effects still to come from missed education opportunities speaks to a need for the youth and mental health sectors to join forces to tackle this head on. Trusted adults are the space where the youth and mental health sectors collide.

Defining a trusted adult

This report sought to develop a young person led definition of a trusted adult. Based on the findings:

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.

A trusted adult relationship is built from a voluntary starting point when a young person sees in someone something that they can trust. This has to be initiated and led by the young person and is dictated by their needs rather than a criterion to be fulfilled.

Representation matters with trusted adults. When it comes to offering support for mental health, having a role model, having someone to listen to you or having shared experiences is important for young people. As young people choose their trusted adults and the relationship is entirely voluntary and led by the young person, the quality of the relationship and the empathy a trusted adult can bring are arguably more important.

A young person sits in a room wearing a black hoodie and their hair tied back. They are looking to the right with their hand curled over their mouth, lost in thought.

Accessing a trusted adult is not necessarily as simple as joining a youth club.

Access to the youth sector is an enormous barrier to young people finding their trusted adult and, indeed, to youth workers being able to reach the young people that need their support.

Supporting young people with their mental health is fundamental to youth workers and a cornerstone of their role. But being a trusted
adult means understanding and acknowledging the limits of the support you can provide.

Referring young people to formal mental health services, or local informal mental health spaces was the most important tool in a youth worker’s command, when listening was not enough. However, referring young people to further support is not without challenge.

The recommendations made by this report look to enhance the ability of the trusted adult.

  • They focus on youth-led, co-created resources that enhance a young person’s ability to help themselves and their friends, while identifying how to access trusted adult support.

  • The report also recommends easier pathways for youth workers to refer young people to help.

  • Changing the narrative around mental health is important to this, and so is working with local communities to make that happen.

Being someone to turn to is the most valued thing a trusted adult can offer

While academic literature points to very real outcomes, time and time again young people highlight the simple idea of having someone to turn to, and the sense of safety and tranquillity that can come with this, as the most valued thing that trusted adult relationships offer.