Relationships are widely acknowledged as being at the heart of practice and pivotal to positive outcomes in social work and social care. However, as a consequence of the increased managerialism that characterises much social work practice, relationships in social work are often deployed in an instrumental way. In contrast to this instrumental approach, Baart (2002) highlights a different approach, which he calls the ‘presence approach’, whereby the worker or volunteer is ‘there for others’ without focusing directly on problem solving. According to Baart, presence practitioners take time to get to know the person and their environment deeply and strive to affirm the fundamental dignity of the person. While not being problem-focused, these approaches may lead to problem solving.
Formal mentoring programmes facilitate the development of a friendship or ‘match’ between an adult volunteer and a young person, with the objective of supporting the young persons’ personal and social development. The aim of this paper is to draw on Baart’s theory, among others, and research findings with young people in care who have had a mentor to illustrate the perceived benefits of a ‘presence approach’ for children in care in terms of coping and resilience.
One to one narrative style interviews were undertaken with 13 young people (aged between 13 and 24) who had or currently have a mentor while in care. Participants were located throughout Ireland and were recruited through the Foróige Big Brothers Big Sisters programme, through which they had been matched with a mentor.
Young people in care valued a ‘presence approach’ which allowed time and space for a trusting relationship to develop. These empathetic, growth fostering relationships allowed them to reveal their authentic selves and deal more effectively with the obstacles in their lives.