‘It’s good but it’s not enough”: the relational geographies of social policy and youth mentoring interventions

Developing a critical analysis of the relational and situated practices of social policy, this paper draws on an evaluation of an early intervention project in Scotland (UK) where volunteer adult mentors supported young people ‘at risk’ of offending or anti-social behaviour. Contributing to ‘enlivened’ accounts of social practice, we explore how practices of mentoring developed through the co-presence of mentor and young person in the often transitory spaces of care which characterised the ‘diversionary activities’ approach in the project. We expand the notion of the relational in social practice beyond the care-recipient dyad to include wider networks of care (families, programme workers, social institutions). The paper explores how such social interventions might both be ‘good’ for the young people involved, and yet recognise critiques that more individualised models of intervention inevitably have limitations which make them ‘not enough’ to deal with structural inequalities and disadvantages. Acknowledging the impacts of neoliberalism, we argue critical attention to diverse situated relational practices points to the excessive nature of engagement in social policy and provides scope for transformative practice where young people’s geographies can be ‘upscaled’ to connect to the realms of social policy and practice.