Circle of Friends (CoF) was originally developed in Canada as a social tool for including vulnerable children and adults within their mainstream schools or communities (Pearpoint et al., 1992). It has subsequently been adopted by schools in the UK as a strategy for including pupils, with a range of challenging needs or behaviours, who have become rejected by or isolated from their peers. This paper examines the contribution of CoF towards achieving positive outcomes for socially isolated children in schools. It reviews evidence from current qualitative and quantitative studies and a Grounded Theory (GT) research study undertaken by the lead author. The design involved interviews with 25 facilitators of CoF within mainstream schools in a large Shire County and an outer London suburb. The children comprising the CoF groups ranged in age from 7 to 12 years. The psycho-social processes emerging from the analysis provide theoretical insights into the part played by the Circle group in providing social feedback and support for the focus child and promoting more positive relationships with the wider class group. At its highest level of conceptualisation the final theory describes how a CoF is perceived to facilitate the movement of a pupil from a ‘closed’ or isolated, social field towards more ‘open’, peer based networks of social support. Implications for future research are discussed. It is argued that complex humanist interventions need to be evaluated and developed using ecologically sensitive methods.
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