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Place2Be highlights the importance of early intervention to Times Education Commission

Last week, Place2Be emphasised the crucial need to act early on children’s mental health to the Times Education Commission, a panel of leading experts, including MPs, scientists and educators.

Zoom screenshot of Times Education Commission speakers

Rachel Sylvester - The Times, Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore - Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at Cambridge University, Sir Anthony Seldon - authority on wellbeing and AI in education, and Dame Nancy Rothwell - President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester, posed questions to Place2Be as they gathered evidence about the urgent need for mental health support in schools across the UK.

Our CEO Catherine Roche was joined by Lucy Alexander, an activist and Ambassador for Place2Be following her son Felix’s tragic death and Kate Silverton, journalist, broadcaster and Place2Be counsellor who is also joining us as an ambassador from 2022.

Catherine, Lucy and Kate talked openly about the empirical evidence, their own experiences in schools and the crucial need to act early.

Catherine Roche said “We have gone from 1 in 10 children with a diagnosable mental health issue to 1 in 9 and more recently to 1 in 6. We also know 50% of adult mental health issues are present by the age of 14. For this reason, it’s absolutely essential we are there, working with children, before problems become entrenched and embedded. Throughout Covid and even prior to this, we have seen more acute problems coming earlier – suicidal thoughts, eating difficulties and issues around self-harm”.

Lucy Alexander agreed on the need to act early, speaking on the tragic death of her son Felix, who took his own life after years of bullying. She says it’s key we turn the narrative around and include parents much earlier on.

A lot of what went wrong was his perspective was never recognised. Issues were labelled as ‘his fault’. Teachers said ‘we can’t make people like your son’. I felt strongly that they needed to see where it started –at primary school, and rather than leaving him in detentions, ask why he was behaving in this way, what was behind it. Too often we were not included. Lucy Alexander, Place2Be Ambassador

She spoke of how often finances have been named as the obstacle to prevent adequate support, but as a headmaster at an inner-city school with a Place2Be programme put it, it’s not a case of ‘how can you afford it’ rather ‘how can you afford not to have it’.

Catherine agreed on the importance of supporting teachers and bridging the gap between health and education sectors, recommending a designated support structure: 

We need to work together across sectors and departments. Every school should have a mental health lead, with training embedded from the top. Catherine Roche, Chief Executive of Place2Be

Broadcaster Kate Silverton, known for presenting and producing across the BBC, and herself a trained Place2Be counsellor, highlighted the importance of looking beyond the behaviour, through crucial training and support:

She said, “It’s about looking at what’s going on with the child or teenager at that point. I was producing with Panorama, in Scotland, in a Place2Be school and there was a young teacher there dealing with really challenging behaviour - a kid throwing chairs across the class. Through the Place2Be training and clinical supervision which is embedded, the teacher felt confident enough to help the young person regulate their own response. This is the key.

If our children don’t feel safe in school – either being bullied or hyper-alert because they have other stuff going on, that trumps the learning brain. They cannot learn. And the longer they are in it, the harder it is to get out. That’s why it’s crucial we understand our teachers are trained and supported and take action early. Kate Silverton, Place2Be Ambassador

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