THE BLOG

Let's Look Beyond the Statistics

19/02/2016 14:10 GMT | Updated 18/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Samira's mother was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer when she was five years old and had just started in Year 1 at school.

Maarif was in his first year of GCSE's, having to use a wheelchair because of his muscular dystrophy and missing lots of school. Before his father left, he and his mother had frequently been physically abused.

Not all our cases are as complex as Samira's and Maarif's, but there are many more children living in very difficult circumstances that have a massive effect on their emotional wellbeing and mental health. In our work at School-Home Support (SHS) we see thousands of children living and growing up in environments which can have a profound and long term impact on their development and long term wellbeing.

There are 70,000 homeless children living in temporary accommodation throughout England, a quarter of a million living with problem drug users. At least 750,000 children witness domestic violence each year. The impact of growing up in these circumstances can be overlooked when glancing at such statistics. It is vital we do not overlook them anymore.

As a charity we work with children who are struggling to engage in their education at school. It may be that they are missing lots of school (what is termed persistently absent), being disruptive in class, or struggling to make friends at school. Our practitioners work with the whole family to find solutions to the problems they are going through.

It will probably come as no surprise that Samira began struggling to concentrate in class, too worried about how her mother was.

We see this a lot in our work, children who are worried about what is going on at home; is their mum safe? Will there be food for dinner? Will there even be a home to go back to?

In order to improve children's mental health (and for that matter future adult mental health) we need to take on board the circumstances in which children are growing up and make sure the whole family get the support they need to overcome them.

But how do you go about putting that support in place?

To help prevent mental health issues developing, we need to make sure the support gets to children and their families as early as possible. But when facing such complex issues, a lot of people's instinct is to try and keep it from everyone, too embarrassed or worried about what might happen if they do open up. Developing trusting relationships is vital.

It is important that all staff working in schools and other children and young people's settings have the skills to engage with parents in an effective way, so that they feel confident in sharing their concerns with you.

Sheila, an SHS practitioner, put in a lot of support for Samira and her mum, Louisa. Arranging for Samira to be picked up for school, attend after school clubs when Louisa was at hospital appointments and make arrangements for when Louisa passed away. When four months later, Louisa did pass away, Sheila helped her sister, who had moved from Manchester to care for Samira. She arranged for them both to attend a specialist centre for bereavement counselling.

It is also the little things that make a difference. We used the SHS Welfare Fund to buy Samira bunk beds so she could have friends round for sleep-overs and got a hamper for the family for Christmas, an especially difficult time when grieving.

Whilst it is has obviously been an incredibly difficult time for Samira, by getting support in place early we have helped her get through it.