In every classroom in Childeric primary school in New Cross, south-east London, there is a world map stuck to the wall. Ranged around the continents are pictures of every child in the class, with a coloured string leading to their country of origin.
Some have recently arrived in the country, others are new to the area, and during the course of a year a significant number will leave and more will arrive. Many live in temporary accommodation, sometimes entire families in a single room in a hostel, and there is a high rate of mobility at the school.
The atmosphere is calm, happy and orderly, but there’s an undertow of profound need – not obvious during a brief visit – that affects a significant number of the children and their ability to learn. Their distress plays out in class, lessons are disrupted and learning stops.
Ideally Childeric would be able to refer the most distressed pupils to child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs).
“We work very well with Lewisham Camhs,” says Ann Butcher, the headteacher at Childeric. “The challenge for us is there’s a very high threshold for children and families to access these services. If we are concerned about a child’s mental health we would make a referral straight to Camhs but we very often are told ‘this does not reach the threshold’. We know there are some mental health issues, and we are not always equipped to deal with it.
“At the moment we have two children attending Camhs. But there’s probably three or four children in each class [making about 60 in the school] who I think need some kind of support because of their mental health issues.”
It is a familiar story as overstretched NHS mental health services for children struggle to meet demand in the face of well-documented cutbacks that have seen thresholds for being seen by Camhs go up, waiting lists lengthen, and children turned away.
The result is that primary and secondary schools all over the country are having to find ways to address children’s mental health needs themselves.
At Childeric, more than half the pupils are entitled to free school meals; many of the rest are growing up in families working long hours in low-paid jobs and on zero-hours contracts.
Some get themselves up in the morning because their parents are already at work, and are also responsible for getting younger siblings to school; others as young as six arrive at 7.30am and queue for the 8am breakfast club. A number of parents are struggling with drug dependency and there are a significant number of pupils with child protection plans. Some are very vulnerable: at school tiny incidents can flare into physical fights within seconds. “That general resilience is lacking,” says Butcher. “If a child is unkind to them, which is a part of growing up, our children can over-react and become over-emotional.”
Butcher is full of admiration for their parents, who are aspirational and ambitious for their children, but the challenges facing some of them are enormous; they are living complex, difficult lives which inevitably has an impact on their children. Some are victims of domestic violence; others are relying on food banks to feed their families; many are isolated.
“We have definitely seen an increase in children coming into school who are not ready to learn,” says Butcher. “They have low self-esteem, they are not settled enough, their social skills are not developed, their cooperation with other children is difficult.
“As they progress through school, when they are aged seven, eight and nine – the kind of age when children can start to act out – their behaviour can become quite disruptive.”
While some children are pretending to be mummies and daddies cooking dinner in the playgrounds, others play tough, acting out scenes of violence they may have witnessed or heard about outside school. “There’s a fair amount of gang violence outside. Young children will role play that,” says Butcher. “The role of the school is to make children feel safe to talk about things, but it can be difficult to manage, and it can be shocking for young teachers. I had one teacher start yesterday and she said: ‘My goodness, there are so many children with so much need.’”
It is a tribute to the work that Butcher and her team do – and to the considerable support they receive from parents – that these children make greater progress than the national average and leave Childeric at or above national expectations, having begun at a much lower starting point. The school has developed a strong pastoral team including two learning support mentors to help children with barriers to learning and a dedicated community worker who deals with parents’ needs – everything from housing to food banks.
To address the needs of pupils who have mental health needs but do not qualify for help from Camhs, Butcher has brought in the children’s mental health charity Place2Be to provide additional in-school support. This includes a lunchtime service for children who want to talk. Pupils post a slip in a special box and are given an appointment with Maria Valdivia, a qualified psychotherapist who works at the school two days a week.
She is in demand; she has a waiting list. Most children ask to see her to discuss friendship issues, which may reflect wider difficulties they are suffering. As well as the lunchtime service, Place2Be provides regular weekly therapy for children – 12 Childeric pupils are being helped at the moment – which has also led to therapy for parents. “We felt the children needed more therapeutic support – something that would fill the gap between the learning mentors and Camhs,” said Butcher. “It has made an enormous difference.”
Many other schools are also finding ways to identify and address their pupils’ mental health needs, but it is a big ask for already overstretched teachers who are under increasing pressure to produce good academic results.
Katherine Weare, a professor of education at the University of Southampton, is a leading authority on mental health in schools. She recently drew up a framework document for the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), advising schools on how best to promote wellbeing and respond to mental health problems. “Mental health has always been the Cinderella service,” says Weare. “The services for young people are drastically underfunded. Waiting lists are insanely large. As need is growing the response is getting less and less well financed.
“The idea that schools are supposed to prevent this stuff at the same time as being under pressure to perform in terms of academic results … it’s an impossible situation.” She says staff in some schools feel “frightened and overwhelmed” by the demands being made upon them. “They fear doing more harm than good.”
A recent NCB survey on bullying, which has serious consequences for mental health, found that 70% of teachers felt ill-equipped to support children with mental health issues related to bullying. Then there are the demands on children to do well in their exams, to look right and be popular in the context of the growing influence of the internet and cyberbullying.
“It’s a toxic mix,” says Weare. “We always look to schools to solve society’s ills. I think they are doing remarkably well in trying to understand their kids and to care about them. They are just in despair at the lack of anywhere to send these kids or any proper support.”
- Breaking The Stigma: CBS Anchor Cindy Hsu Shares Her Most Personal Story About Mental Health Battle
- Small Number of Covid Patients Develop Severe Psychotic Symptoms
- Returning to school was supposed to be great. The reality was more complicated.
- Why New Jersey’s Plan for In-Person Schooling Is Falling Apart
- Breaking The Stigma: CBS2’s Cindy Hsu Shares Her Most Personal Story With Dana Tyler
- The Independent’s Happy List 2020: Heroes in a crisis
- 30 Years Ago, Romania Deprived Thousands of Babies of Human Contact
- States spending the most and least per student on education
- The brief life of Cornelius Frederick: Warning signs missed before teen's fatal restraint
- Worried single mum 'trapped between a rock and a hard place' over childcare shortage
- Melania Trump, Michelle Obama's Similar Convention Speeches
- DIY SOS: Mum forced to turn off daughter and husband's life support in double tragedy
- Queen makes announcement to the nation - royal tradition shattered
- One of the world's strictest lockdowns is lifting, but many are scared to go back to normal life
- Vaccines push the question: Are you going back to church?
- The Wing Is a Women’s Utopia. Unless You Work There.
- How COVID-19 has impacted everyday life in America
- Grandma And Grandpa To The Rescue But Face Virtual Learning Curve
- Covid: What easing restrictions mean to people in a Witham estate
- 'This Week' Transcript 1-7-18: Nikki Haley, Sen. Tom Cotton and Sen. Bernie Sanders
Schools trying to help children shut out by mental health services have 1501 words, post on www.theguardian.com at January 27, 2016. This is cached page on Europe Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.