Mental Health: Who has the Answers?
I usually try and keep this site non-political and positive. I am increasingly seeing children and the adults who support them struggling due to lack of support. Is this a mental health crisis? Or is it a crisis created by Austerity? When you support the children who need the most love, guidance, care and acceptance there will come a time when you are expected to have the answers. Whether this is in your role as teacher, parent, sibling or friend please read on. In fact even better if you are an MP, Local Councillor or LEA manager.
What do our Children Deserve?
There are many many children out there who are crying out for help. There are many dedicated, enthusiastic, creative and compassionate people who are desperate to help. These people need help. We are increasingly facing highly complex issues that very few educational professionals are equipped to deal with. I am writing this as a teacher. I know there are CAMHS workers, social workers and support staff throughout the country who are feeling like this.
A one day course or twilight session on grief, trauma, attachment issues or mental health is not enough. We cannot provide these children with the support and expertise they deserve. A specialist or therapist who has an ever increasing caseload can only physically take on a certain number of children with the focus they need.
Schools or Mental Health Support Centres?
This means that too often the expectations on individuals, schools and alternative provisions is huge. We desperately seek to support our children as best we can. But we are not the experts they need. This means that every time we intervene or make a plan or try a strategy we are experimenting.
We are experimenting with children. We are effectively carrying out high stakes trials based on pseudo-science, hunches, previous experience or half-understood theory. These may or may not apply to the child we are trying to help. The fact that we often succeed in reducing the impact of mental health issues is a testament to the emotional energy these individuals invest in children every day. Some adults do everything in their power to build trust and relationships with children. Many of these children may have spent their lives without anyone bothering to do that before. And they don’t give up.
I have been involved in multi-agency meetings where it is clear people want to help and have great insights. However, it is evident they have not had the time or resources to dedicate to answering the questions.
“What is this child trying to tell us? What do they need?”
That means to find out we have to guess. Or worse go through a process of trial and error to find a way to help. We are all looking for answers that are different for every child. Every time we try something wrong we cost that young person part of their childhood.
I do believe that this leads to educators buying into commercial schemes. Or high profile hyped up initiatives such as Brain gym(r), that have no evidence base for their impact. We are often clutching at straws. For busy time-poor teachers “brain gym” ticks a box. Tools like this can be implemented after a quick twilight training. They will make a positive impact for those children that just need to run off a bit of energy. The most vulnerable children need much more. However evidence-based practice like cognitive behavioural therapy requires specialists. Educators, carers etc just can’t do this.
This is the same issue that leads to the use of reward charts, traffic lights systems etc that consistently shame and fail our most vulnerable children. These children have never been taught the self-regulation strategies required for these systems to be effective. The next route for many children is seclusion and isolation. Exclusion just reinforces that adults can’t help them and don’t deserve their trust. We all know the high level of exclusions – 7 times higher for those with a special educational need. I truly think that with the right specialist input, time and love these children would not be failed by the system.
There is a quote by Urie Bronfenbrenner. I am sure you have heard before but sums up why so many people keep going against all the odds.
Every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her.Urie Bronfenbrenner
So please if you have any connections to MPs, if local Councillors canvas your door, ask them what they are going to do for our most vulnerable children. This is an area that needs leadership right now. Please share this if you agree.