At Innovating Minds we run a two day Mental Health First Aid course where we go into schools and other organisations to train staff and this gives us a chance to see some really interesting educational initiatives that serve the most vulnerable young people in the UK. To mark Mental Health Day 2018 we thought we would tell you about the work we have done with one of our favourite organisations.
We have worked with Cathy Taylor and her team at Red Balloon Learning Centre in Harrow in north west London. Red Balloon is an amazing charity that works with children who find it difficult to access mainstream education perhaps because of bullying or school phobia and in some cases, they take in children with autism who can’t cope with the sensory overload in large schools. There are probably as many reasons for non-attendance as there are children: domestic violence, abuse, insecure housing and frequent changes of school, foster placements that have broken down.
All the children need support, reassurance and a sense of security so it is good that Red Balloon does not have schools but has several houses, each catering for no more than 20 students aged 11 to 17 and no class has more than 5 learners.
Full-time staff deliver a core curriculum of English, maths and science which accounts for 60% of the timetable. Students can also choose other subjects, for example computing, history, geography or food technology. The curriculum is very individualised and Red Balloon brings in some specialist teachers. At the moment there is a group doing geography so a teacher comes in one day a week.
The staff at Red Balloon wanted us to help them identify the early signs of a mental health problem in young people, to be more confident is talking about mental health with their learners and some suggestions of things they could do to make a young person with depression or anxiety recover faster.
‘In some cases we are trying to make up for long periods away from school. We have a very able year 11 student who has missed four years of schooling so basically she has very little experience of the secondary curriculum,’ said Cathy. ‘The range of ability is very wide so some struggle with basic skills while others are very able but lack confidence. Many go on to mainstream further education when they leave us.’
The children have social, emotional and mental health difficulties and have missed so much education that they risk being out of work, training and education once they leave school and the cycle of unemployment, low income and depression continues to spiral.
‘The course gave me the confidence to talk to a girl who is very depressed,’ said Cathy. ‘It has made it much easier to be upfront and talk to people, rather than waiting for them to open up. The student is now on antidepressants and she is using a self-evaluation questionnaire every week that helps her monitor how she is coping.’