This Is My Life


Clarifying things with the young person

There are key messages that need to be clearly understood by the young person right from the start. Of course, you will have to come back to them many times as your relationship develops. Put these messages in your own words and in a way that the individual young person will understand.

1. Includem is committed to supporting you to have a better life.

2. If you have been referred to us, we guess that something in your life is not working particularly well.

3. We know what we are doing. Our approach is based upon many years’ experience working with young people like you and what research has found about what works in helping young people stay out of trouble and have a happy life.

4. We respect you. We have called this approach “This is my life” because we believe that it is your life and we should respect that.

5. This is the way we work. This means we won’t be nosy, interfering or bossy. We will listen to what you have to say. We will be interested in what sort of life you want and, while we are in contact with you, we will do our best to support you to get what you want. This means helping you to think things through and make good decisions, helping you to learn new skills and to get the support you need. Sometimes this might mean that we will challenge you if you do not do what you said you would do or if you do something which harms someone or yourself. Sometimes this might mean that we will share information about you if we are worried that you are at risk of being harmed.

6. If you agree to work with us in this way, your life will get better.

There are two aspects to This is My Life:

1. Goal setting and support planning;

2. Assessing risks and responsivity.

The overall aim of the programme is to enable young people to set goals which will take them towards a better life and to receive the support they need to achieve these goals. This aim provides the primary focus for your work on this programme.

As you go through the goal setting and support planning processes with young people, you should consider how the information you are gathering in relation to the young person’s needs and risks maps onto the Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) wellbeing indicators – this will ensure that young people’s needs and risks are being considered in a holistic way and that our approach is consistent with that of other agencies involved in the young person’s life.

In line with this approach, all the modules from A Better Life have been designed to support the development of young people within each area of wellbeing in the GIRFEC model.

You will also need to be continuously paying attention to any indicators of risk that might hinder progress towards these goals. Risk is defined as anything that hinders the young person’s readiness, willingness or ability to actively participate in the programme. These indicators include:

• The experience of sexual harm;

• The experience of trauma;

• A learning disability;

• Mental illness;

• A history of self harm or suicidal thoughts.

If these or any other indicators of risk are identified, you should discuss these with your manager. In most cases this discussion will focus not on whether the young person should participate in the programme but on how Includem will facilitate and support the young person’s inclusion and participation. In some cases it may be necessary to involve specialist provision.

Safety Planning Talk

It should be borne in mind that some of the conversations that you will have with the young person may arouse painful memories and distressing feelings. You should respect these and enable the young person to share whatever he or she wishes. You should not probe issues that young people clearly do not wish to share. If you have any concerns in this area, immediately consult your manager.

As the worker’s job is to take care of the young person while they are doing this work, it would be helpful here to discuss with the young person how you can both handle any potentially distressing discussions as they arise. An example conversation might be:

“We need to ensure that you feel safe while you are here. Not just physically safe but safe inside. How will I know if you are struggling, if you are finding things difficult? You might start to feel new things, you might start to get angry or feel sad. I think we need to find a way in every session to check out how you are feeling. You and I can do that in each session, and I can also check out with the adults around how you’ve been after our sessions. How does that sound?”

It is then important for workers to check out with the young person how they are feeling in every session. This will give them a chance to recognise and begin to deal more appropriately with powerful feelings.

This kind of gently inquiring will stand the young person in good stead for the programme on ‘Managing my Emotions’.

Often young people can’t say how they are feeling and so you might choose to have a laminated card as below to use in such situations.

this_is_my_life - how_i_feel_scale

You can then check out with them how they are feeling by asking them to rate themselves on the scale. This is particularly good to use when you see a young person becoming agitated. It can help them learn about body awareness too. “You look like you are beginning to get quite stressed – I can see you clicking your knuckles, your neck looks tense.” All good training, again, for them for the ‘Managing my Emotions’ programme.

Engagement and Motivation

Young people are going to do best when they feel they are supported and when they are comfortable discussing personal matters without feeling attacked. They will do better when they perceive their worker as sympathetic, warm, understanding, empathic and confident.

In a major review of what works in family support services McKeown (2000) found that four main factors accounted for change. These were:

40% Characteristics of the client including IQ, history, social support

30% Workers relationship with the client, especially empathy and purposefulness

15% Method of intervention used

15% Degree of hope verbally expressed by the client about change

Thus the combination of assessment, i.e. understanding the characteristics and the context of the client combined with establishing an empathic and purposeful relationship accounts for 70% of the change effort.

For some young people providing them with the opportunity to explore their histories, influences, thoughts and feelings and behaviours in a safe environment will in its self be helpful. The insight that can result for them may be highly motivational in helping them make progress. For others who are more fragile and less secure this process, however, may be perceived as threatening and intrusive with the result that denial and other defensive responses are strengthened.

While some young people will be keen to address what they see as problems, others will be more ambivalent or even reluctant to participate in any form of intervention. Their level of motivation may fluctuate over time therefore workers need to develop skills in motivating them.

The Better Life modules provide young people with choices and perhaps the opportunity to work on things they perceive as easier first.

It is both logical and sensible that a young person may be preoccupied with survival and self-defence during the early stages of intervention with Includem. Workers should not therefore be surprised when their early enquiries, regardless of how much they may be informed by motives of caring and concern, elicit hostile or avoidant reactions.

It is important that young people experience workers as having compassion, genuine interest and empathy. That is not to say that we accept all their problem behaviours, in fact we may even feel a sense of revulsion about some behaviours, but we have to respect the young person and offer them understanding and compassion while they are trying to address their difficulties.

Resistance in young people can manifest itself in a number of different behaviours. For example, arguing, interrupting, dismissing, denying, moving about the room. It’s best not to challenge these behaviours as this can reinforce the need for the young people to further defend themselves. This would in turn make it difficult to engage in any process.

Worker’s style

Use open questioning:

Open questioning gives a young person freedom to explore relevant issues and feelings instead of inviting a single word answer. When asking questions it is good to adopt a curious enquiring tone. This can make the young person feel like you really want to know and makes questioning less intrusive. For example:

What is it like living with your family?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

What kinds of things might trigger your offending behaviours?

Not only are the answers to open questions likely to be rich in information, they may also include information that allows the worker to reflect on the content and/ or feelings to encourage the young person continue. For example:

Tell me about you brother and sister?

What kind of Dad would you like to be?

How might you deal with that type of situation if it arises again?


Make eye contact with the young person. Use nods to demonstrate that you understand, together with listening noises. Another way to give a child/ young person clear messages that they are being listened to and that the worker is interested is for the worker to match the speed of talking and tone of voice. When the young person talks rapidly, the worker responds similarly. When the young person slows up the worker’s tone also becomes more leisurely. This technique can be developed to help an agitated child/ young person begin to relax.


Reflection of content: When reflecting content, the worker is literally telling the young person clearly and briefly the most important things that the young person has just been saying. By doing this, the young person feels as though the workers have listened and heard. The worker also makes the young person more fully aware of what he/she said, thereby, intensifying their awareness of this. The reflection of content is therefore useful in helping the young person move forward in their exploration.

Reflection of feeling: As well as reflecting content the worker may also reflect feelings. This involves reflecting back to the young person information about emotional feelings that the young person may be experiencing, e.g. “I wonder if that made you feel very angry.”. This is a key counselling skill that helps raise awareness of feelings. Reflecting feelings allows the young person to experience feelings and to feel better as a result of releasing these feelings. The young person is then more likely to think more clearly and consider constructive options and choices about the way forward.

Use affirmation or praise:

This involves using words or statements that show that you value their contribution and recognise positive achievements. This can involve saying little more than yes, good, excellent, that’s an interesting point.
By rewarding positive contributions in that way it is possible to motivate young people to participate in the sessions activities. It can also involve acknowledging the courage a young person has shown by participating in the session or by disclosing information about himself, or praising him/her for having coped with a difficult situation.

Elicit self motivating statements:

This involves using questioning methods to elicit statements that demonstrate that a young person can change in some way using the skills they have required e.g. “How would you deal with that now?”


After a particular issue has been explored during a session, the worker summarises by reflecting back to the young person the significant information from the session. This summary draws together the main points in the content and also takes into account the feelings that they may have described. The summary is not a complete re-run of the ground covered; but it picks out the most salient points, or the most important things the young person has been talking about. Frequently young people become confused by the information they are providing. Summarising clarifies what they have been saying and puts the information into an organised format, so that the young person has a clear picture and can be more focused.

At the beginning of each session workers should offer reflective feedback on previous session. This should include any messages the worker wants the young person to receive, also checking out learning from previous session.

My Life

This part of the programme is for you to agree with the young person what is going well in his or her life and what needs to change for a better life.

The young person does not need to tell anything he/she would rather not. Advise them about Includem’s policy on disclosure regarding child protection and offences which have not been dealt with.

Explain that the exercises are just designed to make it easy to talk about important things in your life.

It is the start of your working relationship with the young person and you need to think about the process of motivation and engagement.

In this session it is sometimes a good idea to tell them what you are hoping to get from seeing them. If this is written out beforehand then it will give the young person a sense of being thought about. For example:

What (Your Name) wants to get out of seeing (Their Name)

• I’d like to get to know Stephen;

• I’d like to know what kind of things he likes and doesn’t like and what he’s good at;

• I’d like to think about his problem behaviours and to understand how they happened;

• I’ like to help Stephen think about this so we can do what we can to make sure they don’t happen again;

• I’d like to make it feel okay for Stephen to talk, or draw or write even though I know it will be really hard for him.

Homework and recap:

If you give them this at the end of the session you can then invite them to come to the next session with a couple of things that they think they might get out of seeing you. It is an idea to share this homework with their Carers and to explain the Mountain Metaphor also to them (see page 18). Ask their carer/ parent to help them with this before the next session.

When they come to the next session if they have come up with things they may get from the sessions it is a lovely way for you and them to join on the journey to the New Life.

Life Map

Purpose: To find out the young person’s view of their own life and to enable the young person to learn from what happened in the past so that the future can be better.


Draw a line or road or any other image that makes sense to the young person. You can do this on a piece of paper or on a flipchart. You can also use a line on the floor, e.g. use masking tape or a rope, and walk along it.


Advise the young person that if he or she does not want to disclose anything, it can be given a symbol e.g. an X or a tick, a smiley or a sad face or a dark cloud for something unhappy and a sun for a happy time.

Ask the young person to mark times (age) when:

  • You were and weren’t happy at home;
  • You were and weren’t happy at school;
  • You were and weren’t getting into trouble;

Ask what happened. (It is not necessary for the young person to say if he or she does not want to).

Ask what it felt like then.

Ask if the feelings were negative, what you needed that you were not getting then and if the feelings were positive, what were you getting then that you needed.

If the young person is engaging well in this exercise you could ask about the following:

  • First fight: How did it feel; family’s attitude; what do they think of violence; have they seen a lot of violence; will they smack their kids; worst punishment; was it justified.
  • Alcohol/drugs: First time; last time; where; with whom; family response/ attitudes; what messages will they give their kids about drugs and alcohol.
  • Relationships: First girlfriend/ boyfriend; best friend; worst friend; best memory of mum/dad/sibling/s.
  • Feelings: one of worst memories/ best memories; most scared; when they felt the most happiest.
  • Behaviours: First offence; when people first became worried about sexual behaviours (if applicable); family reaction
  • Other: One of the kindest things they have ever done; one of the kindest things others have done for them; one of cruellest, an embarrassing moment.

Discuss: What does this all mean for your life now in relation to what you need and want in your life now and in the future?

This helps to establish the young person’s views of their life. It may also help to identify issues in relation to power, violence and the young person’s ability to discuss their feelings. It will help you to consider their belief system and how this has developed over time. It may help you to help them to identify possible pathways into any problem behaviours.

Relationship Map

Purpose: To enable the young person to think about the people in their life and how they support and influence them.

Draw four circles inside each other (see page 14).

Write the young person’s name in the middle and then the names of the family, friends, acquaintances, and others (teacher, neighbour, youth worker, social worker) depending how close they are to him or her.

Discuss the reasons for where each person is placed. Would you like anyone to be closer or not so close?

Ask them to write down or say three words for how each person would describe them. This is often a good way of finding out how a young person sees themselves.

Identify what needs each person meets. Who:


• Provides you with food and shelter?

• Keeps you safe?

• Makes you feel happy?

• Makes you feel unhappy?

• Is good fun?

• Talks with you when you are upset?

• Makes you feel good about yourself?

• you feel bad about yourself?

• Keeps you out of trouble?

• Gets you into trouble?

• Supports you at school?

• Who relies on you for support?


Relationship Map

What would you like to change about your relationships?


What’s working and what’s not working?


Purpose: To enable the young person to start think about what’s working in their life, what’s not working and the main blocks they face.

What’s working in your life?

  • What makes you happy?
  • What keeps you out of trouble?
  • Which people are positive supports?
  • Which people rely on you for support?
  • What are you good at? (at school, work skills, sport, arts, caring etc.)
  • What activities do you enjoy?

What’s not working in your life?

  • At home/school/work?
  • What makes you unhappy?
  • What gets you into trouble?
  • Which people make you feel bad about yourself?
  • Which people have you hurt?


What stands in the way of a better life for you?

  • Does getting into trouble? If so how?
  • Does feeling low in confidence, anger, embarrassment, fear, sadness get in the way? If so how?
  • Does trouble at home? If so how?
  • Do drugs and/or alcohol? If so how?
  • Do your sexual behaviours? If so how?
  • Does not having enough money? If so how?
  • Do some of your friends? If so how?
  • Does school? If so how?
  • Does having nothing much to do? If so how?

Anything else?


The Mountain Metaphor


Purpose: This is a lovely metaphor mainly used to introduce the concept of Old life/New life and change and to motivate the young person to address their behaviours.

Materials: Flip chart and pen

Process: Draw a mountain and sign-post. Explain to the young person that you see them as being at a kind of crossroads in their life whereby they have some choices about what they can do. Then explain each route as you see it from working with other young people.

My past life: Explain that they cannot go back to the past but that it always helps to look at some things that happened in the past to help explain about what is happening now.

The road of false promises and excuses: Explain to the young person that this is the road many people opt for rather than work on their behaviours.

The road of the problem behaviours: Explain to the young person that they have been down this road, that you know they have been doing behaviours that have got them into loads of trouble and that people are really worried about them.

The road to a Better Life: Tell the young person that by the very fact that this road climbs to the top of the mountain it is by far the most difficult route to take and emphasise the courage it takes, Talk about the positives about taking this road. The ones you might want to stress are pride (self-pride and other people feeling proud of them), them knowing and understanding themselves better, being safer, having better relationships with people, being able to do things they enjoy and that are good for them.

It is helpful to impress on the young person your role as that of helper and enabler. It is also helpful to say to the young person that at times they might need a rest from the work and that that is okay.

The young person is not asked to participate much. In fact if you let them know this then they can be more relaxed and just listen. It is important not to ask the young person for a decision there and then but for them to think about it and talk to someone else who will understand.


The Road to a Better Life Exercise


Purpose: This is the key exercise within This is My Life, and pulls together all the discussions taken place so far. It aims to help the young person identify the goals they want to achieve, the blocks standing in their way, and the help they want from Includem.

Guide the young person through this exercise. Be curious about their choices using questions to enable him or her to clarify rather than challenge their thinking.

1. Look at the Goals charts (Good friends, Happy family, Enjoying yourself, Keeping well, Earning a living.) Pick up the ones that are important to you. Write what you want to happen or to change in each one. Put them in a row.

2. Now look at the Blocks charts (Offending and other problem behaviours, fighting, drugs and alcohol, peer pressure, conflict at home, trouble at school, boredom, no money). Pick up the ones in your life. Write a little more detail about how this is a block to what you want. Put these in a row between you and your goals.

3. Now look at the Helping Hand charts (Offending & Risk Taking, Understanding how other people feel, Managing Emotions, Drugs and alcohol, People in My Life, Leisure, Health & Wellbeing, Independent Living Education, Training & Employment.) Pick ones which will help you get over the blocks. Which are the most useful? Put them in order of usefulness in front of the blocks.

Emphasise that the young person is making a plan for a better life. Includem will do all it can to support him or her to achieve the goals.

Using the information from The Road to a Better Life, guide the young person through the form below. You can do the writing if that is appropriate.

Preparing for Support Planning Meetings


The previous exercise will provide a focus for the young person’s Support Planning meeting. It is important that the young person is prepared for the support planning meeting so that it is about his or her life and done with him or her not to or for him or her. Go through the process of the support planning meeting and help the young person prepare:

1. How to make an opening statement

• What I want in my life;

• What I am prepared to do;

• What I need;

• What support I request.

2. How to listen, question, negotiate and respond to the offers of support and any conditions set.

3. How to account for what has happened since the last meeting.

4. How to review progress on the action plan.

Learning to Do It


The next stage is to work through the programmes you have agreed with the young person, emphasising that they must be applied to real life.

1. Offending and Risk Taking Behaviours:

2. Understanding How Others Feel:

3. Managing my Emotions:

4. Drugs and Alcohol:

5. People in my Life:

6. Beating Boredom:

7. Health and Wellbeing:

8. Independent Living:

9. Education, Training and Employment.

10. This my Future

Doing it!

Try to connect each contact with the young person to their goals so that they see that it is worthwhile making the effort to have a better life.

Record each step towards the goal in the ‘Doing it!’ form. Just record the action and what the young person got out of it ie a sense of achievement, more confidence, an awareness of a new skill or strength, a new friend, a better relationship with x. If it did not go well, debrief and ensure that what the young person gets in what to do next time, what he or she learnt from the experience etc.

this_is_my_life - support_plan
Example Exercise Cards for Goals, Blocks, and Helping Hand Cards

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