The school year has started again. I love seeing all the primaries — dressed in uniforms, all a little too big — knowing they’ll grow, sometimes overnight, until pants are half-mast and jacket cuffs are creeping up their arms.
Their excitement is palpable during those heady first weeks of school as they face the exhaustion of learning new things.
But for so many of our children, a bag heavy with books and gym gear isn’t the only burden they carry. Some come to school carrying the burden of living in a home where parents could fight their own demons over alcohol or drugs.
Families with acute and chronic mental health problems, domestic violence, bereavement and much more. Some come to school neglected and abused.
There is new research looking at children referred to Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Services (CAMHS) in Scotland. A quarter of the referrals related to children who had either attempted suicide or were contemplating it – a third of these children were under the age of 12.
Many years ago I attended a school in East Glasgow where counselors from Place2Be, a leading children’s mental health charity, were a full time part of life there.
Children of all ages could walk into a room to speak to trained child psychiatrists and support youth who are experiencing self-esteem issues, self-harm, bullying, or a need to talk about their fears and concerns.
The principal outlined some of the backgrounds and issues these children carried, some in foster care – a complexity that would bring most adults to their knees. Yet they had trauma-trained, highly experienced people who could advise, listen, and support the child, the teachers, the school leaders, and the family. All those years ago I thought that was pretty extraordinary. I still do
Place2Be is still in many schools across Scotland, keeping children engaged and supporting teachers and families to help children who may have problems ranging from shyness to emerging serious mental health issues.