A while ago, I came across a great charity, working across the country to improve the emotional well-being of children, their families and the whole school community. The Place2Be was established in 1994 in response to increasing concern about the extent and depth of emotional and behavioural difficulties displayed in classrooms and playgrounds.
Today, Jonathan Wood, Place2Be National Manager, Scotland, tells Special Needs Jungle about their work and why it is so vitally important:
Why school-based counselling support works: Place2Be
You are a busy classroom teacher, juggling the demands of a young family at home with a boisterous class of 8 year olds at school. Your class takes a lot of energy to settle down for work each morning – and at each subsequent break throughout the day.
It’s Monday morning and Amy is in tears again, even before the bell has gone. Recently fostered after a placement with her grandparents ended violently, you have to remind yourself that it is only a year since Amy’s mother died from a drugs overdose. If you didn’t, your exasperation might seep out as you comfort her just enough to get her into class.
Once in there, disorder rules. At the heart of it, two boys are baiting each other. One of them, Sam, is not going to back down. You suspect he is somewhere on the autistic spectrum, as yet undiagnosed - that mix of over-sensitivity and bullishness - and his feelings have been hurt. And Amy’s crying again.
The other children have responded to your presence and start to settle down. So that just leaves Sam and Amy and you to deal with.
How do teaching staff cope with extra-curricular demands of this nature? Who offers them support to ride the emotional roller-coaster that whizzes and plummets through the school curriculum on bad and not-so-bad days?
In Place2Be’s experience, most teachers cope by simply carrying on. Support for the emotional impact of children like Sam and Amy can be hard to come by.
Founded in 1994, Place2Be provides a whole-school service, offering therapeutic and emotional support to children and parents, and on-site consultancy formally and informally to teaching staff. We work with 500 schools across the UK. How would we respond in this situation?
We might expect to meet up with this teacher at break or lunchtime and talk through with her how her morning went. We may suggest strategies for her to support Sam, including that he come and see us in Place2Talk, our drop-in, solution-focused self-referral sessions for children (10 minute sessions at break time). We may bring forward Amy’s session with her Place2Be counsellor, recognising that she is not coping well at the moment. We may simply listen to the teacher.
And indeed, Sam did come to the Place2Talk and together we worked out painstakingly and rationally how he might take control of similar situations and not rise to anyone’s bait. And over the next few weeks, Amy played intensively with the doll’s house in the Place2Be room, in which she installed dolls representing herself, her mum and her grandparents. There were fights and tears, but it wasn’t until a new set of parents moved into a room in the house that Amy’s mum and grandparents could move out, leaving her there. Amy’s foster parents have since applied to adopt Amy, and the tears before class have stopped.
Teachers know that some children arrive at school not ready to learn. But knowing that is not the same as having the time, the resources or even the skills to manage all the issues that children can bring. This is where a service like Place2Be can make the difference by attempting to provide that responsive space for schools at every level in a direct and non-stigmatising way.