This Children’s Mental Health Week, many of you reading this will be struggling with your own mental health, whilst having to support children to cope with the challenges they are facing at such an extraordinary time.
But over the last year, key workers, including Catch22’s staff, have continued to work in prisons, schools, and social care services throughout lockdowns to support some of our most vulnerable young people. Offices have been closed for the majority of the year and support staff have juggled parenting, home-schooling, working and living in the same four walls throughout.
Children face an entirely different challenge; at a time when they should be thriving in education and social development, they are more isolated than ever. Young Minds had nearly 2.5 million UK users visit their website in the last year, up 59% on the previous year. Whilst it has always been important for us to campaign for better employment opportunities, safer online spaces and improvements to social care, we’ve now escalated our push to close the digital divide faced by far too many of our communities: for those without the internet or a device, their mental health is suffering as they are isolated from access to education, from their support workers, or from video calling a friend on a day when a friendly face is all they need.
At a time when young people should be sharing ideas in class, or speaking to a teacher about their concerns, 30 children are expected to show face on camera in a virtual classroom but to mute themselves and any background noise. And after years of diligent study, yet again many young peoples’ exams are cancelled.
Our frontline teams have faced a particular challenge in maintaining the close relationships they have formed with our service users. They are having to minimise contact at a time when they are needed the most – to support with mental health issues, exploitation, and gaps in learning. Who is there to replace the teacher who could have conversations with students about potentially harmful online activity; or the friends’ parents who would check in on how things are at home; the youth worker who was a child’s only safe space; or the music tutor who had worked so hard to re-engage a young person with their learning for a positive future?
Ensuring these gaps are filled is an ongoing challenge for everyone working in a frontline organisation right now – the ability to maintain these important relationships is patchy and no replacement for the kind of support we want our children to grow up with.
Here, we share some advice from the frontline services who have very successfully maintained these relationships.
Advice from our frontline services
Ryan Karter from the Catch22 Music to My Ears service said:
“Lockdown has forced us to rethink how we might reach more of our creative, musical but highly vulnerable young people. We’ve had them writing and rapping about their own unique feelings during lockdown and then supported them to edit and produce it – there’s some magic that comes out of the current frustration. And it’s really productive that they can talk about it at home – I also recommend talking to the young person’s other guardians at home so you can share the work you’re doing.”
Christina Hicks from The Social Switch Project suggested:
“Bring those you are working with together to collaborate – getting a few young people in one ‘zoom room’ to encourage them to work on a project with a collaborative, end goal, gives them a fun and meaningful purpose. In our training programme we’ve got 18 year olds who had never met but after three weeks were producing and editing entire social media campaigns together! It’s not just great for their mental health, it also inspires them for future goals.”
Sarah Parker from the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Child Exploitation service said:
“Sending out physical packages or pamper packs, with things like cards, bath packs, or mindfulness colouring books, has encouraged our young people to spend time peacefully by themselves, doing things offline once in a while. We’ve also mixed online and offline activities, so, for example, we might have a digital mentoring session where both mentor and mentee does the same colouring at the same time. It’s all about trying to create a safe, calm space.”
Joe Raby from the Wolverhampton Violence Reduction Community Team suggested:
“Talk to the parents about giving their child the space to talk to friends or their youth worker, like those in our team, completely independently if they need it – let them know they have a room to go to when they need to and that you are there to talk about those support sessions afterwards, only if they want to. The lockdown situation can feel suffocating and they really need to know they’ve got their own alone time. And young people spent plenty of time venting about home life before lockdown too!”