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Tuesday, 19 June, 2001, 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK
'Too stressed to go to school'
Primary school children
As many as one in five children experience psychological problems at any one time
Health experts are calling for primary schools to focus more on dealing with mental health problems.

As many as one in five children experience psychological problems at any one time.

And a report by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) says that this can lead to behavioural problems.


Jenny might be just 10 years old, but she is already carrying the worries of her entire family on her shoulders.

She is too scared to go to school in case her mother is attacked again by her boyfriend.

She has a little sister who was born prematurely and a toddler brother and thinks her mother cannot cope with them alone.

Her education is suffering and her school, Westwood Park School, in Guildford, is growing increasingly worried by her repeated absences and their effects.


Children also need emotional and social skills to deal with the increasingly complex world of work and relationships

Ruth Lesirge, of the Mental Health Foundation

A grant from the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) enabled Westwood Park School to appoint a family assistant to look after the mental and social well-being of children like Jenny.

The Westwood Park School is just one of five projects funded by the MHF in schools across England to help children suffering from signs of depression, isolation or disruptive behaviour.

Family assistant Quirien Buchanan was able to sit down with Jenny and talk to her about her worries. She arranged for her to be able to phone her mother at lunchtimes to check everything was all right at home.

She was also allowed to go to school a little later and leave a little earlier.

The result - Jenny became a happier, less stressed child and her school attendance soared.

Child
Children are encouraged to talk about their problems

Ms Buchanan, whose role is now funded by the health authority, takes on many cases like Jenny's, talking to children and parents about issues ranging from domestic violence and parenting to housing and financial problems.

She ensures problems are picked up much more quickly before the children become serial truants or disruptive pupils.

She said: "We often pick up quicker that there are problems and give children and their parents the support they need.

"If for instance there is a bullying issue in the school we will make sure that the school is aware of it and that the child has the support it needs"

Report recommendations

Now in their report "I want to be your friend", launched with the Department for Education, the MHF calls for:

  • A mental health co-ordinator for each school to provide a link to specialist services
  • All teachers in mainstream schools to be trained in child development issues
  • OFSTED inspection to take into account the emotional development of children and assess schools on their ability to work effectively with children with emotional and behavioural problems.
Ruth Lesirge, chief executive of the MHF, said children like Jenny need specialist support.

"Numeracy and literacy are important but children also need emotional and social skills to deal with the increasingly complex world of work and relationships.

"If schools can support and work with children who perhaps have low self-esteem and self-confidence, or have poor communication skills and few friends, then these children will have a chance of better mental health and will be able to achieve much more of their educational potential."

The Mental Health Foundation has also produced Promoting Mental Health in Primary Schools - a pack for teachers. It looks at how schools can best work with the children to promote positive mental health.

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