A holistic approach to Children's Mental Health

  • To mark Place2Be’s Children’s Mental Health Week, we share how our model prioritises the emotional wellbeing of young people on our programme so that they can thrive
  • With national trends painting a challenging picture of young people’s mental health, the children on our programme are at increasing risk of missing out on the support they need
  • We explain how our Link Workers continue to play a pivotal role in providing personalised support, exemplified by Christopher's journey on the programme

The big picture 

Since 2017, there has been a year-on-year increase in mental health challenges faced by young people aged 11-16 and in 2023, approximately 1 in 5 young people aged 8-25 were likely to experience mental health difficulties.* This is having a knock-on effect on how young people feel about their education. It has been shown that 11-16 year olds who were experiencing mental health difficulties were less likely to feel safe at school than those who were not. They were also less likely to report enjoyment of learning or having a friend they could turn to for support. Given the current landscape, our efforts have become increasingly vital to ensure that young people receive all-encompassing support that will enable them to achieve.

A holistic approach

Since our pilot, our focus has consistently encompassed three primary areas: social, emotional, and academic support and development. To identify the young people who would most benefit from our support, we gather data and insights from each child’s network to understand their specific needs. Using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire – a standardized tool which measures social, emotional and academic progress, we can understand more about their emotional wellbeing, their peer relationships and their school and family engagement; which uncovers attendance and if the child is at risk of exclusion. However, we have observed a shift where children are exhibiting more of these social health needs.

The average child on our programme now displays an increase in risk factors, from four in 2016 to six in 2023. To address this, our Link Workers are central to supporting children in building their emotional wellbeing so that they can thrive in every area. They work collaboratively with each child and become their trusted adult and mentor, understanding their dreams, aspirations, needs and challenges.

We work with over 40 local charity Delivery Partners who provide specialist support to help children develop confidence, build positive relationships and improve their mental wellbeing. We commission these organisations to provide evidence-based programmes in a range of areas including social, emotional and mental health therapies, conflict resolution, confidence building and academic support. This can range from art therapy sessions with Element, confidence-building Circus sessions with And Circus and Speech and Language Therapy with Hackney Learning Trust. Each of these programmes works to target social, emotional and strengths-based skills that will empower young people to reach their short and long-term goals.

Christopher’s journey 

When Christopher joined the programme in Year 7, it was clear to his Link Worker, Kamal, that his home life and the lockdown had greatly affected his wellbeing. He had struggled to build positive relationships at school and spent most of his time online to escape the real world. From Kamal’s observations, as well as input from his teachers and family, it was agreed that boosting his general mental health would be key to improving his overall school experience. While on the programme, Kamal encouraged Christopher to participate in 50-minute counselling sessions with a WLZ counsellor. He also attended academic Delivery Partner support activities with Coach Bright to boost his reading progress and build his emotional resilience. This support helped him to manage his emotions and achieve greater self-awareness so that he could enjoy school. While he still has a long road ahead, these steps have enabled him to build friendships and feel more confident participating in activities with peers. 

The need for joined-up support 

The environment young people find themselves in is increasingly challenging, and the need to remain committed to prioritizing emotional wellbeing is crucial. Like Christopher, all of the young people on our programme need holistic, joined-up support, that recognizes that mental health challenges are rarely a standalone issue, but reflective of an array of other intersecting challenges. By supporting children to improve their mental health, we can also in turn support them with other associated challenges such as absenteeism, leading to more sustainable and effective change. By joining up with charity organisations and local partners to deliver support that is holistic, we can continue working towards a community where public services and community activities are aligned at a local level so that the right support is provided at the right time. 

Source: NHS Mental Health of Children and Young People Survey, 2023

together, every child and young person can flourish.