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Schools' mental health project set to bring about 'culture of change'

PUBLISHED: 15:26 20 March 2019 | UPDATED: 16:56 28 March 2019

The organisations hope to help children take the lead on their own mental wellbeing (picture posed by models) Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

The organisations hope to help children take the lead on their own mental wellbeing (picture posed by models) Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Hongqi Zhang

A "culture of change" is to be brought about at Suffolk schools as part of a drive to improve the mental wellbeing of children.

A two-year pilot, funded by NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group (IESCCG) and Suffolk County Council (SCC), will deliver a range of initiatives to help children take the lead on their mental wellbeing at four east Suffolk secondary schools, along with their feeder primaries – with the potential to reach more than 1,000 students.

To help boost support available to young people, organisers will employ three new practitioners and one co-ordinator who will work independently of clinical staff to cater for students at Stowupland High School, Farlingaye High School in Woodbridge, Northgate High School in Ipswich and Alde Valley Academy in Leiston from April 2019.

School staff will also receive support for their own mental wellbeing, as well as training to better deal with their students’ emotional needs.

The project, which is part of the Emotional Wellbeing Transformation Plan for east and west Suffolk, is being led by Vision and Voice, a partnership of six voluntary and community groups.

According to IESCCG, the six organisations – Access Community Trust, Community Praxis, Green Light Trust, Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality, The Mix Stowmarket and Volunteering Matters – will use their specialist knowledge to deliver a “culture of change” at each of the schools.

Stephen Skeet, from Volunteering Matters, said the project “sits outside of clinical and counselling services” – instead encouraging young people to take the lead on their own projects, which in turn will inform staff about the best ways to support vulnerable students in future.

The organisations will promote mentoring schemes, extra-curricular activities, volunteering opportunities and other positive community projects to boost self esteem and keep children in the loop when it comes to their own mental wellbeing.

“Some total of those parts gets fed back to the governors and the senior leadership team in the school – so they can look at how they might change their timetabling and how they might want to train their staff in certain areas,” Mr Skeet said.

While children are under “massive” pressure at school, with a combination of Oftsed inspections, assessment and progression plans weighing on their minds, Mr Skeet said clinical services only tend to cater for those who are in crisis.

The volunteering model, on the other hand, is designed to cover “that massive middle ground”.

“Young people are really informed about this stuff,” he said.

“They are really articulate, so this is a little bit more about giving them the pen.”

Dr John Hague, mental health lead for IESCCG, said the initiative represented a “significant step forward” in tackling the challenges facing young people in Suffolk.

“It is estimated that one in ten children have a diagnosable significant mental health issue and one in four struggle with a mental health condition such as anxiety and depression,” he said.

“It is important we do all we can to give them the best start in life.”

His sentiments were echoed by Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills at SCC, who said community-driven change is key.

“Emotional wellbeing and good mental health stem from feeling connected to our communities, having a sense of meaning in our lives and feeling able to contribute and have control over what we do,” he said.

“This approach of working with our voluntary and community organisations gives students tangible experiences, information and skills to achieve and develop their own emotional wellbeing, helps them meet their full potential and gives a firm foundation for future life.”

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