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Providing mental health support through lockdown: “The value of the phone calls is more than I ever expected”

Since schools were closed in Wales to all but the children of key workers, Place2Be has been able to offer support to parents whose children had been receiving one to one counselling support via weekly phone calls. Emma Bell, Area Manager for Cardiff, reflects on the experience of the past few months.

Woman on phone

In late March, as we worked to quickly adapt our services in response to the coronavirus lockdown, we felt that it would take a little time to assess the impact of moving from supporting children face-to-face in primary schools, to providing weekly telephone support for their parents. But now after more than four months, it’s clear that the value of this offer has been enormous – and as one of our clinicians reflected “more than I ever expected”.

For just one of our Cardiff schools, we have conducted over 180 telephone support sessions during the lockdown period. This has included weekly contact with all parents of children who were already receiving counselling from Place2Be prior to lockdown, and also some new parents who specifically requested to speak to someone.

Our mental health professional who is based at that school notes that at this time, “parents are rethinking their lives and what’s best for them”. Being in lockdown has created a pause, and now we can start to look at what has emerged as a result. For some it has amplified existing challenges – increasing concerns over their children’s mental health, increasing screen time, little access to outdoor spaces.

It has also brought new challenges, such as being able to access schools’ online learning platforms without access to a device (never mind enough devices for more than one child). Some children have simply wanted their parents to be parents, not parents and teachers – and this has led to some angry confrontations and frustrations. Our clinician in this school had been able to act as a bridge in these cases, relaying information from calls (with permission) about such difficulties so school could respond.

Sometimes the smallest things can make a huge difference. After hearing that children were missing their friends, but in some cases, their parents simply didn’t have the contact details for each other – our mental health professional was able to seek permission to put the parents in touch with each other so the children could connect.

It’s meant the world to the children and parents. They have felt listened to. School Project Manager, Cardiff

Now as we find ourselves in August, we know that issues don’t disappear just because “school’s out”. This year as a result of the unprecedented need, Place2Be has been able to offer continued support over the summer holidays for families we have already been working with and for whom there is a complexity of need. Our calls will continue to support and guide parents and carers through some serious challenges such as the impact of domestic abuse and increased suicidal thoughts in their children.

As well as generally checking in with families, we will also continue signpost to appropriate services and resources. And when schools reopen for the new term, we will be there for those families by whatever means we safely can. In this way, we will continue to make sure that children are not facing mental health problems alone – whatever the future brings.

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