It was great to be involved with DH’s Connecting programme, helping civil servants gain experience in a school-based early intervention mental health service like ours. We have always supported the recommendations of the Francis Inquiry to improve quality of care for users. This is particularly relevant in the context of recent education and NHS reforms, the prevalence of mental health challenges facing young people today and the commitment to parity of esteem.
Place2Be provides emotional and therapeutic services in primary and secondary schools, building children's resilience through talking, creative work and play which helps them to cope with wide-ranging and often complex social issues including bullying, bereavement, domestic violence and family breakdown. In addition to the one-to-one counselling service, we also offer a lunchtime service called Place2Talk which all children are free to attend. We currently work in over 200 schools in some of the most deprived regions of the UK, reaching over 75,000 children as well as parents.
We wanted the programme to provide a direct insight into our work and its outcomes for children, young people and families. The placement included school visits and a chance to hear accounts from children, parents, clinicians and school staff that have directly benefited from our service, as well as understanding key functions undertaken by staff at our headquarters.
The frontline visits demonstrated the cross-cutting benefits of an early intervention service on public health as well as educational outcomes. DH staff gained direct experience of the world affecting our children and young people today in some of the most deprived areas of London (Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Newham and Islington) where challenges include high-unemployment rates and incidents of gang violence.
Place2Be is woven into the fabric of the school environment, with the School Project Manager and Volunteer Counsellors delivering the service in a purpose built room. Visiting the room and seeing the materials that are used during therapy gave everyone a real feel for our clinical model and non-stigmatising approach. By listening to moving accounts from children and parents, participants were privileged to look “through the windows” and see first-hand the value of our service in the everyday life of children in schools. We were glad that these real-life examples could be shared to give a sense of the significance of the mental health data that civil servants often view at a more macro-level.
The visits also provided an example of how education reforms are playing out in practice and the accountability and decisions that Head Teachers are faced with as commissioners in their own right. Schools often use the Pupil Premium to partly fund our service given the disproportionate number of children on Free School Meals that we work with (over 50% of children who access the service).
It was great that we could discuss openly from our different perspectives the importance and challenges of successfully meeting the emotional and mental health needs of children and young people, as well as the need for innovative and collaborative working between different staff and organisations.
Clare Stokes Inclusion Manager at Bridge Academy said:
"It was great to meet with members from the Department of Health and have the opportunity to talk about the challenges that so many young people face and the wonderful work that Place2Be do in order to support them – it really does make the world of difference to them, and us."
The success of the programme is best captured by one of DH’s participants, Simone Bayes:
"Thank you for your time and that of so many of your team. It did give a real insight into the life of Place2Be, working with your partner schools to reach and support children, families and communities. The school visits were particularly helpful in bringing the theory to life."
Our commissioning and policy engagement officer, Mandy Brown, has also emphasised the value of placements such as these as a secondee from Whitehall herself.
"Spending time in a delivery organisation can really help to improve the policy-making process; drawing on the expertise of providers and building a more in-depth understanding of the needs of service users is invaluable."
This is not the end of the programme for us; it’s the beginning of lasting relationships and shared insights to continuously improve policy making process and service provision.