How lifelong support prevents homelessness

4 August 2023

Our Chief Executive Ewan Aitken responds to a new study that concludes that trusted relationships established early in life can significantly reduce the risk of homelessness. 

If you were to ask me what is at the heart of how we do what we do at Cyrenians, it would be the way that we create trusted relationships.  It is one of the key consistent things across all our 63 services, along with the values that guide us as we work.  We know that if we create good relationships, relationships where those we journey with feel trusted and know that they matter, good things will happen even in the toughest of situations.

Like the young woman who shouted at one of my colleagues who returned day after day to her closed door, “see you, your trouble is you just won’t give up.” But as she later reflected, once the door was well and truly opened,

“It was you coming again and again to a closed door which made me trust you wouldn’t let me down”.  

It’s why I wasn’t surprised to read the key finding of this study from the Centre for Homeless impact (CHI) and King's College London on Lifelong Links. This new study found that a positive, trusted support network for young people in care produces somewhere between a 10% and 22% reduction in care leavers' risk of homelessness. Lifelong Links aim to ensure that a child in care has a positive, consistent support network around them both during their time in care and into adulthood. The care network can include relatives and/or other key adults – it's all done on the young person’s own terms. 

The finding reflects previous work by Public Health Wales which shows how young people who experiences four or more Adverse Childhood experiences but have a trusted adult in their lives are significantly less likely to end up negatively impacted by their childhood experiences than those who don’t.  

It also reflects the knowledge that’s led our work for decades now – that if we are able to intervene early, and provide a stable, trustworthy relationship, people are much less likely to face crisis in the first place, and more likely to rebuild if they do. That’s at the heart of everything we do – the “stickiness” that drives our work – and from street outreach to family support to recovery, it’s been proven time and again. 

Relationships are key – and that’s why family relationship breakdown, often at the heart of why young people end up in care, can be both a cause and a consequence of trauma, poverty, and homelessness.

It’s why we have mediation services which support the healing of family relationships which are breaking or broken – as this study demonstrates, being able to make sure that young people have a support network they can rely on makes all the difference to their prospects down the line. 

We’ve particularly found this in our Keeping Families Together service, which provides whole-family support to families with a child in secure care. With positive family relationships nurtured, we’re much less likely to see the young person end up back in care, in homelessness or in prison. The stability, the understanding and the trust that comes out of these relationships – knowing who to turn to, and that you’ll be listened to as a person not as a problem – makes all the difference for young people. 

Although our work with families is vital to keeping the Promise to Scotland’s care-experienced young people, we don’t have to limit this work to people already in care. That’s why we’re doing work further upstream, through our Family Mediation & Support work and through the SCCR (Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution) which supports young people learn the art of managing conflict, so that when it does happen, as it does in every family, they are better able to navigate their way through it and retain those vital relationships.  

Similarly, we know people in the criminal justice system who are visited regularly by whoever they see as family are six times less likely to re-offend, and children who have positive relationships with their parents are less likely to enter the criminal justice system. That’s why we run the Visitor Centre at HMP Addiwewell and support the work of the 11 other visitor centres at prisons across Scotland, to help make sure that people have the best chance of stable, caring family relationships. 

What the Lifelong Links study, and our experiences here in Scotland, clearly demonstrate is that we need a system change in how we treat children (and adults) at vulnerable times in their lives. We need to prioritise getting those lasting, trusting relationships, where people are met as equals and allowed to define what they need on their own terms. 

Tackling homelessness through a public health approach means getting as far upstream as we can to stop folk ending up homeless.

We work in many contexts to do this, but it always comes back to relationships. If we ask ourselves what really matters to us, no matter who we are, it’s almost always our relationships with others.  Family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, people we have known or a long time and people we only met briefly but who leave a mark.  How we feel about them and how they feel about us is at the very core of whether our lives feel meaningful. Positive relationships help us flourish; when there’s no-one in our lives we trust or feel safe around, things come apart much quicker.

At Cyrenians, we build trusted relationships because we know that if we do that, good things will happen, not just for those we journey with but for us too.