Rights at work

Mental health

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Claudia Noël-Michael is a Specialist Senior Educational Psychologist in the London Borough of Redbridge’s Educational Psychology Service. We spoke to Claudia to find out how children’s rights are guiding her work.

What does your service do to support children’s mental wellbeing?

I co-lead the Redbridge Educational Wellbeing Team (REWT) which works with schools to help them better support children’s mental health and wellbeing. One of the biggest things we do is train school staff to become Emotional Literacy Support Assistants (ELSAs), so that they can support children with emotional or mental health needs in school; rather than that child having to join a long waiting list to see specialist mental health services.

There are trained ELSAs in almost every school in Redbridge and we meet with them regularly, offering training, supervision and support. This means that in nearly every school in the borough there is someone who is trained in topics such as anger management, bereavement, low self-esteem, friendship issues, and parental separation.

We have a similar service for social workers who support children in care, as well as foster carers. So if they’re working with a child with behavioural challenges or emotional, mental health needs, they can draw on our support. We also have a team of practitioners who work directly with children in schools using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy interventions.

How has the mental health situation changed for children and young people as a result of the pandemic?

The pandemic has definitely impacted children and we’ve seen a large rise in referrals for support across all our services. We took part in a piece of national research between October 2020 and March 2021, surveying close to 2,000 children in Redbridge, that showed they were increasingly experiencing stress and anxiety, and feeling sad and unsafe, as a result of the pandemic. At the other end of the scale, we’re also seeing a significant rise in self-harm, even among younger children, and sadly there have also been cases of suicide in the borough among young people.

We’ve been fortunate to receive additional government funding that has allowed us to increase our offer to children, as well as parents and carers. We’ve run workshops for children on managing anxiety, using mindfulness and creative writing to support their wellbeing, as well as for parents on how they can support their children at home. We’ll also be using the funding to run training in schools on recognising the signs of self-harm or suicidal thoughts, as well as offering training delivered by the young suicide prevention charity PAPYRUS.

How are you drawing on children’s rights in your work?

So much of what we do is underpinned by children’s rights. Children have a right to participate, and we regularly ask for their views on our services and what more we could offer. They have a right to know what services are available to them, and our ELSAs have been making posters and putting them up around schools encouraging children to drop in and talk to them. They have a right to privacy, and we’re creating a system that will allow secondary school children to self-refer to our services, rather than having to go through staff or their parents. And of course, they have the right to the best possible health, and that includes good mental health.

There are also general child rights principles that guide our work. Non-discrimination is at the heart of our new race and equality programme, for example, that helps schools unpick whether children’s identities are being respected and represented in school. As well as our new support programme for children with refugee status, with a focus on children arriving from Afghanistan.

Respecting children’s dignity is also hugely important, and feeds into the campaign we’re running at the moment to reduce the stigma around mental health. We want all children to feel that they can talk about their mental health so they can access the support they need at the earliest stage.

Find out more about REWT’s services on their YouTube page.

"So much of what we do is underpinned by children's rights," Claudia Noël-Michael.

A child rights-based approach to mental health

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