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How can we improve the mental wellbeing of children and young people?

Posted on 25 August 2013 .
Tags: Place2Be, children, mental health, schools, teaching, young people

Today in the news there has been discussion of the occurrence of mental health problems in children and young people.

1 in 10 children aged 5–16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder - that is around three children in every class. Many more may be displaying early signs of conditions or have emotional issues which are affecting their behaviour. Psychologists say parents should be trained to help with therapy to avoid the expense of going private and long NHS waiting lists.

But would this be the best solution? Are parents likely to be able to support their own child through such turmoil? Some suggest parents might actually be part of the problem. So is there another way?

Following a review of the education system and teaching outlined in ‘The Importance of Teaching’, the Government announced new National Priorities for Teacher Training. These include special educational needs and behaviour management. Although the Government strategy is still developing, the existing programme of support in schools and local authorities has not yet changed to support the improvement of teaching standards. Very few innovative programmes exist to deliver against the new strategy.

Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) must demonstrate their understanding of children’s emotional wellbeing and its impact on learning and development before they can achieve Qualified Teacher status. Currently initial Teacher Training includes a child development component but neither the curriculum nor the time allocated to the component provides sufficient depth to cover the complex area of children’s emotional wellbeing. Schools are required to support NQTs by allocating mentors and having programmes to support lesson preparation and observations. The support very rarely includes any formalised coaching in supporting children’s emotional wellbeing or understanding mental health.

Place2Be provides integrated school-based mental health and emotional support services, including counselling. As well as supporting pupils with emotional and behavioural problems, Place2Be supports parents and carers, and provides training and advice for teachers and school staff. Their research shows that following one-to-one counselling with Place2Be, children show significant improvement in their emotional wellbeing and peer relationships, with fewer behavioural difficulties. Teachers report that improvements in these areas have a positive impact on children's classroom learning.

Place2Be has devised training for newly qualified teachers which it believes will help them to support children’s mental health; to teach them ways of helping children and their parents, to be aware of children who may need additional support, and to make them better equipped to manage pupils' behaviour in the classroom.

We have been asked to evaluate this programme. It will run for three years and we aim to understand what impact this initial training has on newly qualified teachers, the classes and schools they work in, the children they teach and their families in both the short and longer term.

Can additional training and peer support at this early stage make a difference to children and young people – the 3 in each class with emotional and behavioural issues and those schooled along side them?

Could this be a crucial part of the solution to improving the mental wellbeing of children and young people in the UK? Our research should help answer these vital questions. We look forward to sharing the results as they emerge.

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