Focus on Poz Youth

Growing up is hard to do. It’s a well worn phrase, but for young people living with HIV, the transition to adulthood is made all the more difficult through stigma and social isolation.

Since 2007, Poz Youth, part of our Children and Families project, has worked with young people aged 12-18 who are living with HIV, providing practical and emotional support while helping them to make friends and build self-confidence.

Poz Youth was launched in response to an understanding of the profound impact of an HIV diagnosis on young people. Through the project we work with around half of all young people living with HIV in Scotland.

Disclosure of HIV status can be a traumatic time for young people, who often have complex home lives. Diagnosis raises many questions – about the condition itself, about treatment and about the impact on young peoples’ health, relationships and future. However, the stigma attached to HIV makes it incredibly difficult for young people to speak openly about their concerns which can lower self esteem and lead to social isolation.

Funded by BBC Children in Need, and delivered by our project worker, Lynne Williamson, the Poz Youth group provides a safe space where young people living with HIV can meet other people who understand what they are going through. The group provides a mix of practical workshops and social activities that help the young people answer questions, develop coping strategies and learn life skills while building friendships and becoming more confident. Group members take an active role in deciding the programme when they get together. Earlier this year, the group discussed the impact of drugs on the body and recently went out for a meal to celebrate a group member’s birthday. The group also headed to a climbing centre in Glasgow where some members overcame their fear of heights.

A hugely popular aspect of Poz Youth is the annual residential weekend where the group gets away from home to enjoy a mix of outdoor activities. The feedback we get from these weekends is hugely positive – the group is like a family where the young people feel understood and accepted, and where they can have fun.

The experience we have gained through the Poz Youth project has also fed into national HIV support at a strategic level. Waverley Care is involved in a variety of projects to increase awareness and improve standards of support for young people living with HIV across Scotland.