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Supporting children and families in Wales for ten years

As we celebrate our tenth year in Wales, Jonathan Wood, Head of Service Wales and Scotland, reflects on our work so far and shares the story of one of the young people we've supported.

Jonathon Wood

The new Welsh Curriculum for Schools has the mental health and wellbeing of children at its heart. The announcement of a £10m research centre at Cardiff University to support children’s mental health, and a recent staff well-being conference this September, are all indicators of a positive climate in which the nurturing of good mental health for children and the professionals that support them are seen as building blocks for society.

Place2Be celebrates ten years in Wales this year, offering counselling and therapeutic support to a number of primary schools in Cardiff. Ours is a whole school approach, recognising that working with the systems around a child – parents and families, teaching and school staff – as well as the child themselves, ensures better long-term results and avoids the risk of scapegoating the child as “the problem”. Part of work includes on-site consultancy – Place2Think – for school staff: a space in the school day for teachers to consider the reasons behind a child’s behaviour.

In Scotland we are currently piloting this Place2Think element in two Teacher Education Institutions, in recognition that this reflective, non-judgemental space – the equivalent of clinical supervision for therapists – is often not available to teachers at the start of their career (and in fact, often not available throughout their careers.) It seems vital to us that helping teachers deal with the emotional and psychological impact of working with vulnerable children is an essential element of teacher well-being.

Supporting children, parents and teachers

An 8 year old boy in a Cardiff school was referred to Place2Be. He was extremely reluctant to attend counselling. We learnt that his grandfather had recently died. His mother had mental health problems and his father had left the family when he was four. The grandfather had been the supportive male presence in the boy’s life. The boy had a male teacher who he was very aggressive towards and he consistently disrupted lessons in a way that meant he was put outside the classroom on a number of occasions. Exclusion from school seemed a real possibility.

With the boy refusing to come to counselling, we began to work with the mother and his class teacher. The mother benefited from parent counselling – some work on strategies to manage her son’s behaviour: some work on her own background and the issues that had dogged her - issues of being abandoned and let down by her own parents.

But it was the teacher who was bearing the brunt of the boy’s grief and anger. He was after all a man – like the dead grandfather and the absent father, would he also abandon the boy? This was the challenge the 8 year old threw at him daily, and he was finding it very difficult to cope with. Offering a Place2Think session – in that reflective space - to this teacher drew him back first to his own family situation. His father had died when he was 12 and he felt he had had to become the man of the house then – a role he was not equal to. Every outburst from the 8 year old triggered that sense of inadequacy in him. He was not up to replacing anyone’s dad. He was reacting angrily to the young boy’s behaviour. Talking about it in this way enabled him to find a way to a more adult position from where he could be compassionate and containing – drawing clear boundaries in a calm way. More than this, it reduced the stress on the teacher.

Because of this support, the boy was given space to come to terms with his loss. Enabling the people around him to manage their own reactions to him meant that his strong feelings were not escalated. He could be supported within school without an onward referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), and eventually elected to come to Place2Be to talk himself.

For more information about Place2Be services in Wales, please contact our team on wales@place2be.org.uk.

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