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A tsunami of mental health problems… or a surge of resilience?

 How can we make a difference to the outcome?

Last month the Royal College of Psychiatrists warned of a tsunami of mental illness after lockdown, followed last week by press reports that school closures will trigger UK child mental health crisis. One proposed solution is that ‘every school should be assigned a child mental health counsellor’who can work directly with children who need specialist mental health support, but whose responsibility would also include working on whole-school approaches to improving the mental health of all children”. I am sure that schools would welcome the provision of mental health counsellors. However, this suggestion illustrates the fact that the world outside education appears unaware that schools have been on the frontline of mental health support for children and their families for many years, just as they have been on the frontline of social care for far too long – another fact that has come to the fore in the current crisis. Behind the inspirational stories of headteachers that have made media headlines in the past 3 months are many thousands of educational professionals who have been working hard, throughout the period of partial school closure, to support children’s health and well-being as well as their learning.

 

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New beginnings

 “Lift up your hearts

Each new hour holds new chances

For new beginnings.” 

Maya Angelou, 1992

This week, as the return to school continues, we are focusing on the needs of Early Years children and their families. Most schools in Manchester have Nursery classes, but there is wide variation in how many schools are able to open these as part of the current phase of recovery. However, with a look ahead to September, the issues relevant to starting school in the time of the pandemic will remain a reality for all settings working with young children. The information and resources provided below are suitable for children aged up to 6 years and are intended to support transition back into school for children in Nursery, Reception and Year 1.

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It takes a Village

“It takes a Village to raise a child…”

…is an African proverb meaning that an entire community of people must interact with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment. Equally, if that community neglects or forgets about some of their children and young people, life chances may be diminished with an impact that can become lifelong.

Today, amidst continuing focus on children returning or not returning to school, and as some young people in Year 10 and Year 12 begin to return to their school or college, I wondered if we are neglecting those young people who have the most to lose as #coronavirus kids – namely young people in Year 11 and Year 13 who are facing significant transitions. Without a properly resourced programme for transition to college or work, too many of these young people will find themselves with no plan and no-where to go. Many will be “lost” to education and training, entering the category with the unpleasant acronym “NEET” (not in education, employment or training.

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Black Children Matter

The photo above was taken in Northern Moor, Wythenshawe. Thousands have joined protest marches and rallies in Manchester over the weekend, many of them young people who have never protested before. Children have been part of the protests: some young children taken along by their parents and many, many teenagers who want their voices to be heard. The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis has sparked a wave of protest across the world, amplified by the evidence that people of Black Asian and Minority Ethnic origin are disproportionately at risk of death from COVID19. The confluence of these events has shone a light on systemic racism in our society. The issues have to be acknowledged and addressed, not only despite the health pandemic, but because of it.

This week our focus is on Transitions as schools prepare to support more children back into school. Taking up the challenge of #BlackLivesMatter, we consider the particular issues of transition for black children and young people in our Manchester communities.

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Physical Space and Physical Distance

Keep Calm – Stay Wise – Be Kind (Action for Happiness)

If you’re feeling a bit weary as the current situation continues why not download the Action for Happiness calendar for June: Joyful June.

As we begin to adjust to the “new normal” brought about by the COVID19 pandemic, our individual and collective actions and experiences in the coming weeks will shape and influence the longer term impact of this crisis. Whilst national policy decisions remain outside of our direct control, our work with schools, families and children offers opportunities to support a more resilient return to education after the disruption of recent weeks. I have felt proud this week of the leadership shown by my colleagues in the British Psychological Society Division of Educational and Child Psychologists (BPS/DECP) in providing clear, practical, evidence-informed and resilience-focused guidance for schools as they plan their next steps for pupils and staff: Back to school: Using psychological perspectives to support re-engagement and recovery.

Over the coming weeks through this blog we will be gathering and disseminating information, advice and resources building on the psychological advice provided by the BPS, starting this week with advice related to the changes in the physical environment in school. However, all of the recommendations are underpinned by a focus on building resilience: “During this crisis, there is a risk that the narrative around changing policies and school transition becomes dominated by the language of risk and trauma. Coping is important to protect ourselves from stress and it is important to connect with the ways in which we are coping with this challenge.”

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Thinking it all through together..

儿童是未来的栋梁 

Children are the bearers of our future

(Chinese)

 

A similar phrase was used in Japan in 2018 when I travelled to Tokyo to hear Japanese psychologists talk about support that had been provided for children affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. The conference was called “Promoting Resilience for Children Toward Life-Long Happiness” and I attended to talk about resilience and belonging following the Manchester Arena bomb.

As we approach the third anniversary of that event this week, I have been reflecting on the immense challenges to the resilience of adults, once again, as we seek to protect our children from the impact of this pandemic. The past week has been particularly difficult for those who lead our schools, so our focus this week is on support for school staff as we go forward together into the next phase of this crisis.

We are offering additional support for headteachers, school leaders and SENDCos this week. Please see the final section below for further details.

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"Lean On Me..."

We had prepared our content for this week’s blog prior to the Prime Minister’s statement last night. Our theme this week is “Promoting help-seeking’, or, “lean on others when necessary”, an aspect of the Resilience Framework with relevance for adults as well as children.

At this time, the Bill Withers lyrics seem particularly pertinent, so I have attached them in full here, and you can maybe find time to enjoy listening.

 

 

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Strengthening our immune system

Our psychology colleagues across the world are sharing resources to support children and their families through this pandemic and this week I came across this flipbook: The Mighty Creatures Lost Their Crown. In this story, the Munchkins learn that we have “tiny soldiers in our bodies” that help us to fight viruses, and that “we all have the power to make our little soldiers inside our bodies stronger by sleeping enough and eating healthy food such as fruits and vegetables.” This is a very important resilience message, instilling a sense of hope and giving us practical steps that we can all take to improve our chances of being able to fight the virus.

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Green Care

As we begin another week of this strange existence, with no known end in sight, yet a realisation that we will, collectively, have to find a way of resuming a life that involves contact with others, our thoughts have turned to what we can offer schools, children and families as they consider how to move from the ‘now’ to the ‘what next’. We have, once again, found inspiration in the Resilience work undertaken by our friends at Boing Boing Community Interest Company, the Resilience Framework developed by Professor Angie Hart and her colleagues. If you are new to this approach, there is lots of information on the website. Those of you familiar with the Framework will be interested to know that there are now versions for primary children, for families and for adults, as well as versions in a variety of languages, all downloadable from the Boing Boing webpage here.

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Positive Psychology

As we begin a new school term completely unlike any other we have ever experienced, we are focusing this week on Positive Psychology. It is easy at this difficult time to focus on the negatives – and there are many – but we are also seeing the positive side of human nature and ultimately it is our resilience that will see us through this.

 

 

With huge thanks, as always, to the Catalyst team for their creativity, research and ideas.

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