The disruption of lockdown has taken its toll on children’s mental health, but state support is under greater pressure than ever. Spurgeons’ Family Support Services in Elmbridge havebeen piloting a new course to provide early support for children affected, and the early results are resoundingly positive. Katie Vinnicombe, Spurgeons’ Senior Family Support Worker at Elmbridge Family Centre tells us more.
“Since lockdown, we’ve really noticed more of the children accessing our services in the 8-11 age group have low self-esteem and are refusing to go to school,” Katie says. “Children face an eighteen-month waiting list for an assessment with CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) and may then have to wait many months more before they can get the help they need. We wanted them to be able to get some support sooner.”
Katie and her colleagues became aware of Elevate Life, a local charity founded by Anita Hill. With the support and input of Dr Phil Moore, co-chair of Kingston NHS Trusts, and child support specialists, Anita had written and designed a 12-week course, #BE OK, with the aim of building resilience in children.
Katie says, “It covered topics such as how to make and keep friends, what a good friend looks like, how to develop better self-esteem, managing feelings, communicating effectively.
We could see it would really meet the needs of these children.”
Katie and colleagues at Elmbridge Children’s Services approached Anita and set up an after-school pilot scheme with her, based in a church in East Molesey. Katie says, “The course was led by a trained teacher from Elevate Life, and two of our team in a supporting role. 12 children joined the course, referred via their family support worker from our allocated case load. We started with some simple icebreakers such as getting them to describe the highs and lows of their week. There was ‘circle time’ where they talk and listen to each other in turn. We also ate together, which helps to build relationship and trust. It sounds simple, but it’s had a big impact on the children who attended – we really saw a change in them.
“For example, when eight-year -old Cherry was referred to us, we were told there was domestic abuse at home which she had most likely witnessed, and that she was a very picky eater (it’s common with anxious children as it’s one small way in which they can have some sense of control.) The first week she was literally shaking with nerves. She refused to leave her bag in the cloakroom and for the whole session she hugged it like her life depended on it. But on the second week, Cherry put her bag down – and on the third week she was happy to leave it in the cloakroom.
Initially she barely touched the food we had on offer, but by the end of the course, she was eating as much as anybody else. She began interacting with the other children, and swapped phone numbers with a few of them.
“Recently, Cherry came to a family fun day we ran. She was like a different child! She was running around playing with the other children, shouting to them and laughing with them. It was so good to see how she has blossomed into a much more confident and sociable girl who is able to enjoy life.”
Thanks to a generous funder, Katie and her colleagues are being trained by Elevate Life to run the #BE OK course themselves. They also plan to add groups for older children and operate a regular drop in so that children like Cherry who have completed the course can continue to get support, should they need it.
About the Spurgeons Elmbridge Family Centre Service:
Spurgeons family centres in the borough of Elmbridge, Surrey are places where parents of children aged 0–11 years can share the challenges and joys of parenthood. The centres offer a range of activities and support services to help you with all aspects of parenting, helping you make sure your child gets the best start in life.
To learn more about our work in Elmbridge, click here.