Aim. To evaluate the impact of a community youth befriending programme on a group of young people with chronic illness and their carers.
Background. Befriending is said to be highly valued by those who are befriended, improving self-esteem and offering opportunities for increasing skills and social activities.
Design. A qualitative longitudinal pilot study of young people with cystic fibrosis, their carers, their befrienders and other personnel, closely involved with the families.
Methods. Seventeen participants were interviewed over one-year to explore their experiences of befriending. Ten of these were either befriendees (aged 8–18 years) or their parents. Half of these families were interviewed twice; once at the beginning of the befriending relationship and another at one year later. Seven other personnel, closely involved with the young people, were interviewed; two play therapists and two education liaison personnel. A focus group was also held with three befrienders. This range of data sought to reveal a wide perspective on the impact of befriending.
Results. Befriending was seen as a good thing by all parties involved. It offered a distraction from illness, respite for carers and helped young people to raise issues of personal importance. Befriending was challenging for the befrienders given the diagnosis of this group of befriendees. Negative experiences could result if pairs are poorly matched or if befrienders are not committed to the process. Exit strategies were not addressed.
Conclusion. Sustainable befriending relationships are dependent on commitment from both parties and transparency about the expected practices and processes from the beginning to the end of the relationship.
Relevance to practice. The evidence that is available in support of befriending is mixed. To date this is the first study in relation to people with cystic fibrosis and will add to the body of knowledge of befriending in young people with a life-threatening chronic illness.