I remember doing my first mock GCSEs in Year Nine and being terrified at the time. The mocks felt so hard. They were intimidating. In the lead up to my exams there were times when I needed to ask people, including my peers, for help or knowledge or advice on certain things. Before I took part in Teens and Toddlers I was very shy inside and outside of school.

Austen* started the Teens and Toddlers programme aged 14; with the boundless enthusiasm that we have come to know as his signature mark. His engagement with his fellow group members was punctuated with difficulties, as his exuberance countered by his shyness came across as a social awkwardness. This was leading to a fragility in his mental health. He started to feel as if there was something wrong and this was compounded by being bullied and changes in his childhood friendships. At times, he wasn’t sure of what was real and what was fantasy.

When he was with his toddler, he worked hard, trying new behaviours. Through making sense of what worked and how to work through the difficulties, Austen started to refine his sometimes erratic behaviour, which led to a rich relationship between him and his toddler. The interaction with his toddler supported him to relearn new ways of regulating himself. During the project, he spoke about his life-long struggle with making friends and fitting in with both adults and peers.

Austen found his experience on the Teens and Toddlers programme so enriching that he registered for the continuation programme; Young Leaders. This time he was armed with his new interpersonal skills, which he was keen to demonstrate. The prospect of meeting new people was not as daunting.

All of Power2 programmes involve learning through experience. For Austen, Teens and Toddlers started a process of him finding a new sense of confidence within himself, as he learnt about guidelines of engagement and social dynamics – in particular personal boundaries. Young Leaders provided new opportunities for him to explore his potential academically and to think about his next steps.

He was now learning to speak fluidly with professionals through engaging with Young Leaders mentoring academy and employability workshops. Here his development was supported through professional conversations around key areas including: exam preparations, further education, employment and decision making.

Austen remains a key member of the Young Leaders Programme and continues to strive towards being the best possible version of himself. As he started to believe in himself and his abilities, he started to apply himself in new ways academically. Letting go a little of the burden of feeling isolated, social exclusion and finding creative ways of fitting in, allowed this already academic student to tap into his potential. He was used to achieving, but the motivational and new understanding of how to apply himself, supported his grades.

I finished my GCSEs, which didn’t feel as hard even though my first two were nerve-wracking. I’m ecstatic and it’s awesome that I got a grade 7 in Maths and a distinction in Business BTEC. I got the grades I needed to do my A-level options.

*A pseudonym has been used to protect Austen’s real identity.