NHS figures released recently showed that 1 in 6 school-age children in England had a probable mental health problem. This is 5 children in every classroom and is a huge increase from 1 in 9 children before the pandemic. In fact, 83% of young people with mental health needs felt that the pandemic made their mental health worse.
This Children’s Mental Health Week we wanted to share the story of a child we worked with called Freya. When Freya first met School-Home Support practitioner Marina, her self-confidence was rock bottom and she had started self-harming. Getting to school was the last of her worries, and with financial difficulties adding to the pressures at home, Freya’s parents were struggling to access the support they needed.
What was the situation?
Freya is 9 years old and lives with her parents and her 3 siblings. Having been bullied at her previous school, Freya moved to the school where our practitioner Marina worked. Because of the bullying she had faced Freya was feeling anxious about going to school and mixing with her peers. Her confidence had been knocked so severely that the stress and loneliness that she felt led to her pulling out her eyelashes and eyebrows.
Freya’s parents were at a loss of what to do. Dad’s work takes him a long distance away from home for months at a time, while Mum tries to earn extra money while being available for her children by selling goods from the family home. Despite this, the family still struggled financially, and Freya felt particularly insecure about her father’s absences.
Freya’s parents tried everything they could, including contacting NHS child mental health services, and taking Freya to get her haircut in a way that might hide some of the damage. As the problem worsened, Freya became increasingly embarrassed about her appearance and struggled to even look at herself in the mirror.
How did School-Home Support help?
Freya’s school recommended that Mum reach out to School-Home Support, so she attended one of Marina’s coffee morning group sessions that she holds for new parents. The next day Mum asked Marina to help. Marina started by discussing strategies with Mum on how she could support Freya at home, checking in with her regularly. Marina also started meeting with Freya on a weekly basis, allowing her to talk freely and discussing the negative feelings that led to self-harm. Marina drew on her training in children’s mental health, encouraging Freya to express herself positively, trust in new relationships and care for herself.
Marina shared ideas for Freya to employ when she felt stressed, and she applied to School-Home Support’s Welfare Fund to help buy items to place in a distraction box for her, which proved very useful for her. Meanwhile, Mum and Dad worked alongside Marina, developing strategies to support Freya.
Dad was unsure about attending a Dad’s Café meet-up morning, almost turning back several times, but he pushed himself and was really pleased he went, saying it was good to meet other Dads since his work often prevented him. Dad also now makes a greater effort to ensure face-to-face time with Freya whenever he is home. Marina invited Mum and Freya to join a ‘Cooking on a Budget’ course, and Mum was really pleased to learn cheap, nutritious recipes. The course has also inspired a passion for cooking in Freya – she is designing her own cookbook and wants to be a chef when she grows up.
Freya says she is managing her worries and stresses much better now and feels confident using the strategies Marina taught her. She is very happy at school, goes on regular sleepovers and is even a representative for the school council. Crucially, she has stopped self-harming, her hair is growing back and she feels comfortable looking at her reflection again. Freya’s teacher said she has reached her attainment goals and settled well into her new school. Freya ended last summer term looking forward to the new year ahead.