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OLD PALS ACT; McConnell hails scheme which gives lonely kids a friend to share their pain.

Byline: IAN DOW

BIG Brother and Big Sister will be looking out for youngsters under a scheme launched in Scotland yesterday.

First Minister Jack McConnell hailed it as fitting in perfectly with the Daily Record's Save Our Kids Campaign tackling teenage suicide.

The Big Brothers and Sisters project will provide children with a young adult who can act as a role model.

McConnell said: "The young adult volunteers give the children support and a sympathetic ear.

"They can help young people put any problems they have into perspective. It gives the youngsters much more confidence in dealing with life and the trials of growing up.

"Too many youngsters fail to reach their full potential because they don't have a role model to help them.

"This scheme provides a valuable two-way friendship for the mentor and young person."

The Scottish Executive is putting pounds 25,000 into Big Brothers and Sisters.

It also has the backing of multi-millionaire Sir Tom Farmer, who said: "The support it gives to lone parents, providing a friend and role model for their child, is significant."

Mentoring has been available in the US since the 1990s and is now in 30 countries.

Surveys have proved it has provided real benefits.

Children with a mentor were much less likely to abuse drugs or drink, play truant, lie to their parents or be violent.

Amanda Kaple is running the scheme in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

She explained: "At present, it is only open to the children of one-parent families. Often the parent has to spend time with either a sick child or young children.

"He, or usually it is a she, doesn't have the time they would like to spend with the older child.

"That is where the mentor comes in. They volunteer to spend time with the young person, just in the way a big brother or sister would.

"Often they spend the time in doing simple ordinary things - the cinema, the shops."

Amanda stressed the mentors were thoroughly screened to ensure children were safe.

Rebecca Wright, 22, a shop manager, is the substitute big sister for a Glasgow girl, 12.

Rebecca said: "We have fun together, it is as simple as that.

"I really do act as a big sister, if she wants to talk about anything I'm there to listen.

"We do the things sisters will do, check out clothes in shops, go for a coffee or a burger, visit the pictures."
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 9, 2002
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