Getting young people active and engaged can be one of the most challenging tasks social care staff face on a daily basis.  Often the backgrounds of young people have been chaotic and unpredictable.  Embedding positive attitudes to a healthy lifestyle should start from the moment a young person is placed and continue throughout their time in placement.

As a social care provider you are committed to ensuring that the health of young people is a high priority and a constant focus of the staff group’s attention. This is achieved in part by embedding the key messages contained within health and well-being outcomes.

The primary role of staff is to make sure that young people are as physically and mentally healthy as is possible.  At a basic level this includes providing good nutrition, ensuring adequate sleep, and a proper regard for safety at all times.

With these desired outcomes in mind,  aim to promote healthy lifestyles for young people by providing them with opportunities to enjoy a range of leisure and sporting activities and to work with them to ensure they possess the personal skills to enjoy a healthy lifestyle.

The service should ensure each young person is provided with access to a healthy diet through the construction of varied, healthy menus that are monitored for their content by both the Manager who is assisted by advice from a nutritionist that is sought on a regular basis. Young people are to be provided with fresh fruit and vegetables daily.

Nutrition and Diet

Diet does not solely mean losing weight. It describes the mixture of foods that a person eats. The connection between diet, exercise and health is now undeniable. For young people, diet is vitally important as it can shape their eating habits into adulthood.

Young people should be encouraged to eat a well balanced diet. This should consist of protein (meat, cheese, fish, pulses, eggs, and nuts), carbohydrates (cereals, pasta, rice, potatoes, and bread), fats (vegetable/olive oils, butter/margarine, and oily fish), fibre (fruit, vegetables, and whole-grains), vitamins and minerals (contained naturally in a well-balanced diet). 

Bread, other cereals and potatoes – plenty of these will aid a well-balanced diet although too much bread of course can promote weight gain.

Fats & sugar - foods containing fat or sugar should be eaten in moderation and lower fat alternatives are preferable.

Fruit and vegetables – a performance indicator of Every Child Matters is that all young people should eat at least five portions a day. Canned tomatoes and baked beans count as do glasses of fresh fruit juice (although they contain much less fibre than a piece of fruit) and surprisingly, better quality tomato ketchup.

Meat, fish and alternatives – young people should eat moderate amounts of these and eat lower fat versions where possible. Oily fish is a good source of Omega 3.

Milk and dairy foods – young people should be encouraged to eat or drink moderate amounts of these and provided with lower fat versions whenever possible. 

Vegetarianism - in order to ensure an adequate intake of essential amino acids, at least two different types of protein (pulses, Quorn, tofu, soy protein meat substitutes) should be provided as an alternative to meat.

Food and mealtimes – these can be an emotive issue for many young people, particularly those who are traumatised for whatever reason. Behaviours can include hoarding, refusing, overeating, finickiness, vomiting, stealing. These behaviours may be reflecting inner trauma and have nothing to do with appetite or food preference. Whatever the reason it is always best to avoid confrontation.

Exercise

Because of a change in lifestyles, it is widely accepted that young people as a whole are not as fit as they were in the past. Regular exercise is just as important for adults as it is for young people and is therefore something that can be undertaken together between staff and young people.

  • Simple exertions such as walking, running, jumping, bike riding, swimming, football etc. can help keep the lungs, muscles, joints, heart and circulation working efficiently and healthily.
  • Wherever possible, young people should be encouraged to walk to their appointments instead of being transported by car.
  • Staff are expected to encourage young people to participate in leisure activities that will provide them with regular exercise.

Personal Hygiene

Not all young people have developed good routines around personal hygiene.

Young people should be supported to understand the importance of washing, including after they have used the toilet. Equally, taking a regular bath or shower and changing into clean clothes should be stressed, not only from a hygiene viewpoint, but also because of the social consequences.

This is difficult for some young people who have a very low self- image and cannot see the importance of keeping themselves clean. This can be a difficult area for staff to deal with, but it cannot be used as an excuse to avoid dealing with the issue.

This is only a snapshot of the full guidance and information contained in the health and well-being policy and guidance for staff.  It should be used in tandem with the full policy and be implemented alongside the relevant plans for individual young people.

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