WillisPalmer launches Children’s Charter to support vulnerable children

Children who have suffered neglect and abuse during lockdown need identifying and providing with support as a matter of urgency as they return to school.

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Education & Wellbeing

Supporting schools to promote emotional wellbeing.

WillisPalmer provides services to work alongside schools supporting them to help children who may be displaying signs of a mental health problem.

WillisPalmer provides:-

  • Safeguarding surgeries which are an opportunity for safeguarding leads/class teachers to talk through safeguarding concerns with an experienced children and family social worker.
  • Behavioural and Emotional welfare surgery  - a comprehensive school-based mental health programme offering advice and intervention on behavioural and emotional issues presented.
  • Educational Psychological Assessment and Treatment where an expert educational psychologist undertakes assessments in school to advise upon a range of emotional and social problems or learning difficulties.

WillisPalmer's Chief Executive Mark Willis said: "The government has rightly recognised that school staff are ideally placed to help identify children who may be experiencing mental health problems and we know that early identification and help is crucial. However, teaching staff have a huge agenda without considering the mental health of children, have busy schedules and are time poor and, at the end of the day, they are not trained social work professionals with expertise in child and adolescent mental health."

"That is why WillisPalmer has reached out to work with schools to work alongside them while relieving the pressure on school staff regarding children's mental health which teachers say all too readily that they are not confident in dealing with. Together, we can make a difference," Mark Willis added.

There is likely to be an increased need for schools to have support in areas such as safeguarding and mental health following lockdown where children may have experienced a neglectful or abusive period of time.

Safeguarding surgeries

WillisPalmer provides schools with access to regular safeguarding surgeries. These surgeries are an opportunity for teachers to talk through any concerns they have relating to a child's mental health with an experienced children and families social worker. Written advice is provided to the school by the social work consultant on the day of the surgery and social workers can help school staff make referrals to children's services where necessary, saving stretched teaching staff time and stress.

The frequency of the safeguarding surgeries would be dependent upon need and would be set by the school themselves.

This consultation service does not take the place of child protection procedures. An outcome from our consultation could be that a referral is made to the local authority for an assessment.

Safeguarding Children’s Mental Health

WillisPalmer offers a comprehensive school-based mental health programme offering advice and intervention on behavioural and emotional issues presented by children at school. Through its team of Consultant Social Workers, school staff can engage in a Behavioural and Emotional welfare surgery whereby they can access a children's mental health specialist and meet with concerned teachers/parents and/or children themselves. WillisPalmer can make referrals to local authority children’s services or NHS services having first hand knowledge of the issues involved.

Educational Psychological Assessment and Treatment 

WillisPalmer provides expert educational psychologists to undertake assessments in schools to advise school staff upon a range of emotional and social problems or learning difficulties. A report can be provided setting out a range of solutions including resources required, charged at a fixed fee price. The school would also be able to commission ongoing educational psychology advice and consultancy dependent upon need.

Who is this service suitable for?

The services on offer are suitable for primary and secondary schools and colleges. More specifically, the following people may find the services useful:

Teaching assistants

More and more, teaching assistants are being asked to undertake specific training in mental health awareness, particularly since lockdown where children may have experienced mental health problems. Teaching assistants are ideally placed to recognise problems or changes in the children they work alongside. Safeguarding surgeries would provide teaching assistants with access to a children's services professional where they could discuss cases of concern.

Class teachers

Class teachers are in a very difficult situation whereby their main aim is to provide education to the children in their classrooms, however, they are also ideally placed to notice changes in a child's mental health, attitude, attainment or wellbeing. Teachers are time poor and, following lockdown, are placed in the impossible position of trying to raise levels of educational attainment of children who may have been out of education for six months while identifying those pupils who may have experienced abuse, neglect or mental ill health during lockdown. Having access to trained social workers experienced in this area would relieve some of the pressures on classroom teachers while ensuring that children who have experienced problems can access support.

Newly qualified teachers

Newly qualified teachers have a lot to get their heads around on starting their first role. While they will have experienced time in a classroom teaching, having their 'own class' to take responsibility for is a different level. They have their class to teach, books to mark, parents to engage with, displays to prepare, a new school to adjust to, staff to work alongside and then on top of that, they have emotional wellbeing and saferguarding to manage. While mental health and child protection awareness will have been included in their training, this could be to varying degrees, and a text book case is very different from the reality of having a child displaying anxiety following a neglectful lockdown. Having social workers supporting schools with several NQTs can relieve a lot of their stress. Social workers can advise them, signpost them and show them what signs to look out for in pupils while helping them to navigate children's services for those with safeguarding issues.

Heads of year

Heads of year often have pastoral duties and can refer and keep contact with outside agencies in relation to pupil behaviour and welfare. As such, heads of year need to be trained in mental health and child protection awareness and may find it useful to have access to safeguarding surgeries whereby they can discuss individual or complex cases with a children's services professional.

Assistant heads/deputy head teachers

Headteachers manage schools and create the right conditions for children and staff to achieve their best. They will have overall responsibility for pupils' wellbeing. The deputy headteacher will need to stand in for the headteacher in their absence and as such will need to be well trained in mental health awareness and safeguarding. New deputy headteachers may find it relieves pressure on them to have access to trained social workers who can assist them with individual or complex cases.

Head teachers

Having overall responsibilities for school staff and pupils, headteachers take the role of mental health and safeguarding extremely seriously. They frequently liaise with children's services around safeguarding issues to ensure children are safeguarded. Having access to Behavioural and Emotional welfare surgery or Safeguarding Surgeries could be one way to ensure that schools adopt a whole-school approach to mental health and safeguarding, particularly following lockdown as it is anticipated that schools will be making an increased number of referrals to children's services.

SENCOs

Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators are responsible for the day-to-day operation of the school's SEN policy. All mainstream schools must appoint a teacher to be their SENCo. The SENCo will co-ordinate additional support for pupils with SEN and liaise with their parents, teachers and other professionals who are involved with them. As such, SENCos need mental health and safeguarding awareness.

Mental health leads

The government has published a green paper on transforming children and young people’s mental health provision.

Under the government proposals, there will be a designated mental health lead in each school and college who will be responsible for the establishment’s approach to supporting pupils with mental health problems.

The designated member will be a trained professional who will also be offered training to develop their skills in leading mental health work and Behavioural and Emotional welfare surgery may be a positive way to support mental health leads.

They will be responsible for overseeing how the school supports pupils with mental health problems, helps staff to identify pupils who may be experiencing mental ill health and refer children to specialist services if necessary. In addition, they will be on hand to support staff and provide advice about mental health.

Background

The government has seriously ramped up its expectations of what schools should be delivering in terms of supporting children and young people's mental health. While this is a positive move and welcome, the move has placed extra responsibilities and expectations upon already stretched schools in an area they may feel less than confident about.

As three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health problem, schools are extremely well placed to help detect and support vulnerable children who may be experiencing anxiety, depression, eating disorders or problems with body image as well as conduct disorders. However, this doesn't necessarily make schools equipped to deal with the complex issues surrounding children's mental health while may classroom teachers are already swamped with meeting curriculum requirements, addressing behaviour policies, supporting pupils, marking homework, planning lessons and preparing children for SATS and other vital educational milestones.

With teachers leaving the profession in droves and recruitment and retention remaining a vital challenge for many schools, academies, colleges and universities, adding a further level of responsibility to stressed and stretched teachers - many of whom have not received formal training in children's mental health - is only going to exacerbate the problem.

In fact, research by Leeds Beckett University in 2018 found that trainee teachers would struggle to spot signs of mental illness in pupils and the vast majority of trainee teachers would feel ill-equipped to handle the issue, even if it were detected.

Professor Jonathan Glazzard, of the Carnegie School of Education, who carried out the research, said: “While teachers are not health professionals, they are well-placed to spot issues and respond quickly to prevent problems from escalating.

“Despite the increased public awareness of mental health issues, not enough is being done to prepare the next generation of teachers to identify and then respond to health issues that can have a profound effect on a child’s education and life in general.”

According to Professor Glazzard’s research, almost 60 per cent of trainee teachers did not feel confident about identifying mental health needs in students, while 70 per cent did not feel confident in supporting children and young people with mental health needs.

When asked about whether mental health was given sufficient priority, 73 per cent felt that mental health was given insufficient priority in initial teacher training.

That is why WillisPalmer has extended its reach to provide experienced social work staff and educational psychologists to schools to help them navigate this complex arena.

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