Thursday, 31 August 2017

Mental health and children, young people & families

By guest author Lucy Taylor

Hello, my name is Lucy Taylor and I am the Children, Young People and Families Officer for Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations (PAVO). 

My role is to support the organisations across Powys that work with children, young people and their families. This involves acting as a conduit between the organisations, for example Action for Children which works with families, and the statutory partners, for example Powys County Council which, in some cases, commissions part of their work. I use a blog, Facebook and network meetings to keep the sector up to date and informed. 

Another part of my work is to support the Play Networks and to raise the awareness of play. We ask: are there enough opportunities, time and space for our children to play in Powys? It was working with organisations looking at what services are available, and what support is needed for children and young people, that the gap or thinning of services that support them when they are having low level mental health worries was noted, hence this blog post.

Listening to young people speaking at the Mental Health Today conference in Cardiff in May this year I was struck by their common sense approach to some of their issues. They knew that life was not always going to be plain sailing - that events or relationships could knock them back. They wanted to be self-reliant, not turn to medical interventions or for the medical community to medicalise their problems. They recognised that in helping and supporting friends through their low patch in life, they may put their own mental wellbeing and stability at risk. Their request – “A toolkit for life, not a bucket of sand to hide from it.”

Mental Health Today conference presentation

This is the issue and where some gaps in support appear. Everyone can experience a wobble in their wellbeing. But, with a few self-help tools, some supportive friends and community, the knowledge of where to go for help early on, we may all take a role in our and our community’s wellbeing, leaving the expertise of medical interventions to those whose condition requires it.

The Young Adult Peer Support Project (YAPS) which was run by Ponthafren Association as part of the One Powys Connecting Voices lottery-funded programme was really excellent. When it wound down recently as the funding came to an end none of the young people (age 16 – 25) involved with the project was happy to see it go. Peer support projects like these are extremely valuable, as the first port of call for a young person struggling with their emotional wellbeing is friends and family.

The Making Sense Report was produced in January 2016 as a response to the Together for Children and Young People programme. It had emerged that referrals to Children & Adolescent Mental Health Services across Wales had increased by over 100% between 2010 – 2014, and four organisations – Hafal, Mental Health Foundation, Bipolar UK and Diverse Cymru – joined together to find out why and consider what could be done to address the situation. Young people themselves, who had been in contact with CAMHS teams in Wales, reported on their health and wellbeing and called for “non-mental health professionals such as education staff, counselling services and youth groups to share responsibility for the emotional needs and development of young people”.

For children, young people and their families to have access to informal and non-medical support, we – the families and communities – need to be able to recognise when we, and our neighbours, need a bit of help. It is also crucial that we know how to source help in our particular locality. Information and connectivity is the key. The PAVO Community Connectors help people in Powys (aged 50+) and their families or carers, to access community-level services and activities, (tel: 01597 828 649) – and Powys People Direct “one number for children, adults and families for information and support services” (tel: 01597 827 666) can also help.

The third sector as a whole plays a huge role in providing services and opportunities for children and families in Powys. From the playgroups and play networks, guides, cadets and St John groups to sports clubs and arts organisations. Then there are the agencies offering more targeted support or drop ins. Think of Action for Children, Mid Powys and Brecon Mind or Ponthafren Association.

Powys Youth Service supports young people around their emotional wellbeing in youth clubs or at school. The service has recently noticed that where it used to work with pupils around exam stress, now stress is more general and anxiety about life and the future prevalent. Online counselling and advice is available via an organisation called Kooth (Xenzone) .

But what of families, education and skilling our young people for life? If “it takes a village to raise a child”, what part do we all play in ensuring the wellbeing of all the children? Can Google or YouTube really teach you everything? The ability to budget, know about nutrition, healthy eating and exercise, or how to cook from scratch? These are the life skills the young people want, alongside how to protect their mental wellbeing, perhaps using such techniques as yoga, meditation or mindfulness.

Would it surprise you to know that a walk in the park or taking time to walk and be around trees can also help? The Japanese call it “Tree Bathing” and have invested in public awareness of the benefits of being outdoors. 

PAVO staff are working with organisations from the mental health and children’s arenas, alongside green or outdoor providers, to look at how best we can work together and bolster our communities and families by making the most of the green resource we have on our doorstep. We will be meeting in the coming months to discuss the support we can all offer. For more information call 01597 822191 and speak to Lucy Taylor or Jane Cooke.

Why not take five minutes out from your busy day to walk in the fresh air, appreciate the sights and sounds of nature? Perhaps grab some friends and all walk together. Take the children to the park or share a picnic with other friends and families. It may not solve any problems but it can help soothe your mind and give you a place to start. Like eating elephants you can take life one bite at a time.

There is currently a Welsh Government consultation on: The Emotional and Mental Health of Children and Young People. If you, or someone you care for, has been in contact with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, then you can give feedback up until 29 September 2017.

The Children, Young People and Education Committee’s Inquiry will consider whether the ‘Together for Children and Young People Programme’ is on track to deliver the ‘step-change’ in CAMHS services that is needed. It will also consider how effective the programme has been in promoting the resilience of children and young people, including a focus on the role of education in preventing mental health problems. The Together for Children and Young People (T4CYP) programme is a multi-agency service improvement programme that is aiming to reshape, remodel and refocus the emotional and mental health services provided for children and young people in Wales.

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