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Catholic Children’s Society (Westminster) and John Lyon’s Charity have collaborated for Children’s Mental Health Week to raise awareness about the importance of supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic.

February 2021

Children’s Mental Health Week 2021 is putting the focus on children’s ability to ‘Express Yourself’. This involves encouraging children to find ways to express their feelings, especially about the pressures of the pandemic, through discussion, communication and creativity.

John Lyon’s Charity (JLC) has always valued the work of organisations supporting children and young people with their mental health, awarding 126 grants totalling over £8.75m since 2010. Funding from John Lyon’s Charity has helped the Catholic Children’s Society (Westminster) support thousands of children experiencing mental health difficulties by providing qualified therapists to work on-site in schools. This has proved a very successful partnership and this work has grown to include providing mental health training for school staff, as well as specialist training to help schools run support groups for children experiencing bereavement and loss.

The Catholic Children’s Society now works in over 80 schools across London (both Catholic and non-Catholic). During the pandemic they have supported over 4,500 vulnerable children, both through their mental health services and by providing emergency food and essentials for families living in poverty.

Greg Brister, Catholic Children’s Society’s Deputy CEO, commented:
“The pandemic and subsequent lockdown has been extremely challenging for disadvantaged children, particularly those with a history of mental health difficulties. The lack of routine, together with difficult home lives and poor housing conditions, has made life very hard and isolating for many children”.

“Fortunately, thanks to funders like John Lyon’s Charity, our mental health services have been able to continue supporting children throughout the pandemic. This has included delivering therapy face-to-face in schools as well as providing sessions for children at home via telephone/video calls. Offering this consistent support has made a huge difference when children have faced so much change and uncertainty in their lives.”

JLC has worked with the Catholic Children Society for many years and provided over £1million to support their mental health services in schools. This close partnership has been particularly effective during lockdown where they have worked together to ensure vulnerable children and young people can continue to access specialist mental health support despite the challenges posed by Covid-19.

Grants Director at JLC, Cathryn Pender says “the Charity has long had a reputation for funding emotional wellbeing projects; its commitment has risen steadily in the last ten years from £137,000 in 2010 to £1.2million in 2020. We have always been aware that there is need for our funding when it comes to children and mental health and working so closely with Catholic Children Society over the years has certainly proven that. We hope that other organisations take advantage of the Emotional Wellbeing grants JLC has to offer, as well as the ongoing support we as a Grants Team provide to organisations to help them ensure the vulnerable children and young people who need support are reached”.

One positive development both Charities have seen is that lockdown has helped to remove some of the stigma around accessing mental health services. Greg Brister adds “that many ‘hard to reach’ parents have been far more open and willing to engage with our therapists and work together to support their children. Children’s Mental Health Week is a fantastic opportunity to build on this and raise awareness of the importance of encouraging children to express themselves, share their feelings and access the support they need”.

CASE STUDY: ASIF’S STORY

Asif is eight years old. At school he often appeared tired and would get tearful and angry or lash out and be very aggressive.

Asif’s home life was very challenging; his mother was emotionally distant and there were serious safety concerns in relation to Asif’s father who subsequently left the family and stopped providing any financial support.

During therapy Asif enacted some very distressing scenarios. For example, characters would often be attacked by a ‘baddie’ and would be desperate to escape but would be caught and killed or eaten by a monster. Gradually Asif was helped to process these distressing experiences and the therapist worked with him to develop a greater sense of safety. Asif’s play started to shift and at times there would be happy endings, where the character escaped and lived happily with his mother.

During lockdown the Catholic Children’s Society’s therapist spoke with Asif each week and was also able to have conversations with Asif’s mother. Usually she was very hard to engage with, but the extraordinary situation with the pandemic had helped her to let her barriers down. She discussed the physical abuse she had experienced at the hands of her husband and the impact this had on her son. Together they explored different ways they could help Asif feel more secure and less afraid and volatile. Asif’s mother recognised that she did not always make time for her son and could be impatient with his challenging behaviour.

The therapist suggested a new routine to set aside some time each day to play together and provided some creative resources and ideas for different activities. The therapist also talked through different ways Asif’s mother could set clear boundaries whilst also giving Asif the attention he so craved.

This has had a big impact. Asif’s teacher has commented:
“I was so worried about how Asif would cope during lockdown and cannot believe the progress he has made. The support the therapist has offered during this time has been amazing”.

Asif said:
“I liked being able to talk on the phone. You helped me when I was scared and made me feel better… I got out all my bad feelings and now I don’t have them anymore”.

Catholic Children’s Society, John Lyon’s Charity and many other charities involved with Children’s Mental Health Week, are calling for more support to ensure children and young people do not develop long lasting mental health issues as a result of Covid-19. If you would like to find out more about Catholic Children’s Society services than please visit their website www.cathchild.org.uk or to find out more about John Lyon’s Charity and its Emotional Wellbeing funding.