Giving vulnerable young people the chance of a better life

Niall Walker is Edinburgh Libraries’ Reading Champion. Here Niall talks about his work with looked-after and accommodated young people (i.e. those staying in residential care units).

“I don’t read books, I just don’t … oh, is that one about a dog?”, 12 year old girl in residential care.

It was. She liked it. Hopefully next time I see her she’ll have picked up another.

Young people in Britain’s care system have, on average, lower school attendance, fewer qualifications and are significantly more likely to be excluded than their peers. In adulthood they will have more difficulty finding work, training or study and will be at significant risk of becoming homeless or imprisoned. Most will have experienced deprivation, neglect or abuse. Many will have suffered violence, harassment, self-harm, suicide attempts, eating disorders, depression, frequent family crises, feeling stigmatised by authority figures and ostracised within their communities.

But reading offers hope:

Reading for pleasure is a more powerful indicator of a child’s educational performance than their socio-economic status or their parents’ education. This creates better life chances for young people of any background and crucially for our most vulnerable young people reading for themselves can lead to benefits in emotional resilience, confidence, functional literacy, empathy and the ability to form attachments to others more easily.

This is where libraries come in:

We are working hard to cater for vulnerable young people. This means improving access to books and other reading which matches their interests and abilities and ensuring that our libraries are always welcoming, safe and interesting spaces. As Reading Champion my objective is to develop strong and sustainable links between care staff and libraries staff so that young people are encouraged to visit and use their safe, local library space and resources at all stages of life. We work as closely as possible with partners, carers, teachers, families and primarily children in care themselves.  Each one can be full of surprises, with a lifetime of enjoying reading and the benefits of reading ahead of them:

“Those books on hip-hop you got me were good. Yeah I’ve finished them now. How about something about boxing … or y’know what, a couple of years ago I had to read a Rabbie Burns poem for school. It wisnae bad. Could you get me something by him?” 15 year old boy in secure unit.
“Umm, yeah buddy. I think we’ll manage that.”

choosing which book can be difficult

Tough choices: which one to read first?


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