Would a project designed to help secondary students address their emotional needs and wellbeing benefit those at your school? Read on for former assistant headteacher Val Taylor’s experience at her school with Reaching Out

For the past 12 months, Carmarthenshire Youth and Children’s Association has been running a project designed to help secondary schools in the Llanelli area to address the emotional needs of their pupils. The project, called Reaching Out, is funded by the Big Lottery Fund.

Interventions

Research shows that, if young people are to manage their problems, they need to develop a quality relationship with an adult. Although face-to-face counselling is one way of achieving this, it is not the only one. The challenge is to find a form of provision that is acceptable to each young person.
With this in mind Reaching Out provides adolescents with access to three interventions:

  • one-to-one counselling
  • holistic therapy
  • yoga therapy.

It is also possible for a young person to combine two or three of these interventions.

School staff

Representatives from each of the five Llanelli secondary schools were involved in planning the project, together with the senior educational psychologist for Carmarthenshire and a behaviour support specialist from one of the schools. This group appointed the emotional health and wellbeing team (counsellor, yoga therapist, holistic therapist), and has been monitoring the project through termly meetings.

Implementing the programme

Once the team had been appointed, they met with the senior management team in each of the schools to devise an implementation plan. A link member of staff was identified in each school, who liaises weekly with the team and helps to manage the project by communicating referrals and setting up appointments. Where possible, the team spoke to all the staff to explain what was happening.

Members of staff were offered taster sessions of yoga and holistic therapy. This was partly so that they could get a feel of the project, but also because the team were determined to offer a service that was of benefit to the whole of the school community. Staff enjoyed this provision and said that it helped them deal with issues in a way that had not previously been provided for them.

Intervention plans

Drawing on the various skills in the team, it was decided to devise three levels of intervention.

1. Focused interventionThis was needed for a small percentage of pupils in each school who had clearly identified needs such as depression, anxiety and unresolved loss.

2. Broad spectrum intervention

This was geared to deal with those pupils who were presenting milder problems such as low self-esteem and anger management difficulties.

3. Raising awareness programme
This comprised:

  • taster sessions for pupils
  • healthy lifestyles days
  • taster sessions for staff
  • Inset workshops for staff to share the team’s expertise.

Outcomes

Over its first year, the project has offered:

  • one of the intervention plans to 280 young people in the schools
  • treatments and workshops to 154 members of staff
  • support and workshops to 16 parents.

Staff report that their pupils appear to be:

  • calmer
  • more able to reflect on their behaviour
  • more ready to engage in lessons.

The young people themselves are very appreciative of the project. They responded well to the planned interventions and gave positive feedback. As the team offers a combination of interventions, the risk of the stigmatising effect of being referred for ‘counselling’ was very much reduced. This also meant that confidentiality in terms of counselling referral could be maintained as the pupils were going to see a member of ‘the team’.

Pitfalls

The project has not been without its pitfalls:

  • Finding rooms for the provision of services was a nightmare and required the schools to be very creative in their use of space.
  • There were some cynics in each of the schools who considered that what we were offering was a ‘treat’ for the pupils, which could be withdrawn as a punishment if necessary. 
  • There was also reluctance among some staff to release young people from their lessons. 

Gradually these barriers are being broken down, as more staff become aware of the project’s benefits.

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