Category Archives: Bullying

Public transport should be for all members of the public

Kevin Preen and Michael Edwards embark on their campaign to raise awareness about travel and learning disability
Kevin Preen and Michael Edwards embark on their campaign to raise awareness about travel and learning disability

Public transport – by definition involves “buses, trains, and other forms of transport that are available to the public, charge set fares, and run on fixed routes”. While the network is meant to be for the use of the general public, a significant section of that population – people with a learning disability – faces challenges when using the system.

While people with a physical disability are often literally unable to get onto vehicles, someone with a learning disability might be physically capable of stepping onto a train, but might find the system as a whole impossible to negotiate.

My sister, for example, likes using buses, trains or Tubes but it would be impossible for her to safely work her way round any of those modes of transport alone; her anxiety would leave her rooted to the spot and she’d be unable to cope with making sense of the numerous changes and confusing timetables..multiple folded leaflets, tiny print, lots of abbreviations..forget it, it’s difficult enough for the rest of us, let alone someone with Fragile X syndrome. So her journeys are accompanied or she’s driven from A to B by us but for other people with learning disabilities, there are not many other options for getting about.

Take Kevin Preen, without public transport, he says he would be “stuck in doors all day”. Kevin, 52, has a learning disability and Perthes’ disease, which led to a hip replacement when he was seven-years-old.

Kevin is supported by and is a peer-advocate for Oxford-based learning disability charity My Life My Choice (he has also represented Oxfordshire’s learning disabled community at the National Forum). He is now spearheading a travel and transport campaign for My Life My Choice during Learning Disability Week, which starts today.

The 52-year-old, who is currently awaiting an Atos assessment for work capacity, adds”: “Without public transport…I could make a few short journeys a week by taxi but I couldn’t afford to do much.”

His awareness-raising mission, known as the End to End trip, involves Kevin and a fellow peer advocate, Michael Edwards, travelling by train from John O’Groats to Lands End to highlight the importance of public transport to learning disabled people amid the cuts.The social exclusion often faced by people with learning disabilities is being exacerbated by the cuts as day services close and public transport becomes even more important in boosting people’s independence.

End To End Infographic

Kevin adds: “It will be a new experience. I’m getting excited about meeting people on the train and raising awareness of how important public transport is to people with learning disabilities”

Kevin and his fellow “transport champion” Michael will stay in B&B’s and hotels along the route with travel passes issued by train firm First Great Western. Accompanied by the charity’s champions coordinator Dan Harris – who will be capturing their journey online – the aim is to record the good and bad aspects of the trip. Dan adds that even if the experience involves getting on the wrong train, “as long as it isn’t going to seriously impact our journey, it would be good to capture that and explore the challenges that led to the mistake”.

Michael, 59, who has very limited vision, epilepsy and a learning disability. He lives with his brother who acts as his carer. Michael helped found the self-help charity and is a trustee of My Life My Choice. He says: “Trains bring me a lot of pleasure. I have been planning my own routes and taking trips as far away as Devon for 15 years. I’ve been watching trains on platforms since 1967…I like trains, I’ve got myself a hobby.”

According to the charity, among the main travel issues faced by the people it supports is the difficulty in being unable to understand timetables and dealing with confusing platform changes. Kevin, for example, once ended up getting on a train heading for Penzance instead of his home area of Oxford because of making a wrong platform change. Another major problem is that of bullying on public transport.

Bus and train drivers are also not always aware of the needs of disabled passengers. Just last month, for example, Jackie, who is also supported by My Life My Choice was travelling independently on a bus. On boarding, the driver asked her to reverse her wheel chair into the disabled space, but didn’t give her time to reverse before moving off. The jolt as he pulled away meant Jackie’s jacket got caught and tore. She pressed the bell well in advance of her stop but the bus driver didn’t stop until she was past where she wanted to get off (he told her she hadn’t pressed the bell well enough in advance).

The End to End trip schedule takes in Glasgow, Manchester, Swansea and Paddington before arriving in Land’s End on Sunday August 25th. In each place, the travel champions will meet local learning disability organisations.

My Life My Choice hopes to publish an easy read document about learning disability and public transport as a result of the End to End campaign and you can follow the trip on Twitter.

* More information about the trip can be found on the charity’s website and you can view a gallery of photographs about the trip here here.

How I fell back in love with learning

The recent Mental Health Awareness Week made me reflect on my experience of mental health problems and how studying is helping me – hopefully – recover.

Recovery from a mental health problem is rarely easy and, in my opinion, highly subjective. Medication may form part of a person’s recovery but those little green and white capsules aren’t the magic “happy pills” you may have envisaged and sometimes the first step is simply trying to access the right help and support to manage your symptoms.

While I’m dubious as to whether I’ll ever fully recover in the medical sense – complete absence of symptoms – by understanding myself and my condition better and am slowly learning what may help alleviate the impact depression and anxiety has on my life.

Last year I began studying with the Open University (OU), a short science course on particle physics which did not require me to leave the house or interact with anybody face to face; my idea of heaven. One of my issues is severe anxiety triggered by social situations, when I’m at my worst I am unable to leave the house for fear of seeing another human being and becoming paranoid, agitated and having to run away.

I’m 23 now and left school with five GCSEs at the age of 16, since then I’ve been in and out of college and university, believing if I was strong enough I could “get over” my mental health problems and fit in with my peers. Unfortunately being in a classroom inevitably triggered my anxiety due in part to bullying in high school which I’ve struggled to recover from.

I was always reluctant to study with the Open University despite encouragement from my mum, a fellow OU student. Part of me felt I was somehow “giving up” by not facing my issues head on and forcing myself to be around people in an educational setting. But, fed up of being a drop-out and realising I’d always preferred the autodidact way of learning I signed up and haven’t looked back since. Studying with the OU allows me to continue my education despite my problems and has helped me fall back in love with learning again, something I doubted would ever happen and believing the opportunity to gain a degree and have a career was something other people had, not some anxious wreck terrified of the world.

Following the completion of some short science courses to ease me back in to studying again I’m now aiming for a degree in physics. It’s not always being easy, concentrating on differential equations for hours on end when you’re depressed and crying your eyes out can be horrific but the university has services on offer for students with disabilities which include the Disabled Students Allowance (to pay for any additional costs relating to your disability), flexibility with assignment deadlines and individual support during examinations. I have asked for extensions for a couple of assignments due to struggling to motivate myself because of my depression.

The study is also part-time which makes things less stressful and means I can study alongside receiving treatment for my mental health. The number of hours I study a day or week varies quite a bit, but on average, around two hours a day are dedicated purely to study. I’ve found when my assignments are due I become a bit obsessive with the studying and can spend days or nights on end studying.

Some people find distance learning isolating and admittedly, sometimes it’d be great to sit down and have a chat with fellow students; there are plenty of opportunities to chat online via the forums, Facebook and Twitter, which suits me.

I have used the forums available on the OU website which is part of it “virtual campus”. I have also used one set up by students on Facebook where I just chatted about the course rather than anything mental health related; it helped remind me I wasn’t on my own.

For some courses there are face-to-face or online tutorials every few months where you get to communicate with your tutor, who is always available by email and telephone. I’ve been too anxious to go to face-to-face tutorials which is why I’m so glad online ones were provided.

Studying as a way of managing a mental health problem may not be for everyone but it has managed to keep me focused and helped me realise my life doesn’t have to be defined by being unwell and a mental health service user. Recovery may be long and arduous but I’m convinced studying – and I hope to finish the degree in another four years – will be an integral part of keeping me mentally healthy.

* Carrie is involved in the charity Young Minds’ VIK (Very Important Kids) project which campaigns on youth mental health. You can follow Carrie and Vik on Twitter @vikproject

Playgrounds, pupils and promoting mental health

Positive mental health promotion should start in schools and we should teach all our children to be more mentally resilient. This approach means that, as adults, they will face the world with more confidence and have empathy and compassion for others. Currently 1 in 10 – or around 850,000 – children and young people are diganosed with a mental health problem, according to the charity Young Minds.

Research from Warwick University last week suggests that children involved in bullying – as both a victim and a bully – are three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts by the time they reach 11-years-old.

Four years ago when I worked for the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, myself and a non-clinical colleague, Marjorie Wilson, who worked in the Information Department, created a storytelling-based approach to mental health for use in primary schools.

We based our idea on Virginia Ironside’s book The Huge Bag of Worries. It seemed the perfect choice to deliver a powerful message in a creative and interactive way. Our Huge Bag of Worries Emotional Health and Wellbeing Project aimed to highlight the detrimental impact of bullying on a child’s emotional health and wellbeing and promote more understanding of mental health, thus challenging the stigma aspect.

Each session lasted approximately 45 minutes and we visited over 30 schools, fitting in at least four classes into the day

We started by introducing ourselves and asking the children what a nurse did. I then explained the role of a mental health nurse and we asked what the term “mental” meant? After a chat about this, Marjorie then read the book which we also had on a Power Point display so the children could see the beautiful graphics.

We then got a volunteer from the class to put balloons – each of them representing a worry – into a large, colourful sack one by one as we recalled the story’s key messages. The child then walked up and down with the bag to show how difficult it was to carrying around your worries.

We tried to emphasise that you don’t need to carry around your worries and often we have to take each worry out and hand it to our parents or teachers. Children don’t often realise they don’t have to be burdened by adults’ worries.

We specifically highlighted bullying as a worry and what we could all do to prevent and deal with this. At the end of the day 25 children, five from each class, would line up in the playground and one by one they would release the helium balloons. The rest of the school and the parents would stand around in a large circle and watch. Everyone would clap and cheer – that was one of the highlights of our day.

The project was funded for a year but we went on to deliver it voluntarily for a further two years. We still deliver it now voluntarily.

The project was successful as the book carries a simple yet powerful message. It has beautiful graphics and words and we used colourful materials in an informal, creative approach.

It seemed to resonate well with pupils in their final year of primary school who were apprehensive about starting a new school. We also found many of the children were also less judgemental and had far fewer preconceived ideas around mental health than adults.

The children would often say who their best friends were and that they would talk to them if they were being bullied or felt stressed. This was quite touching. One school had a “friendship bench” in the playground that a child could go and sit on if they felt alone so that others would know this and play with them.

We met a number of children who were caring for parents with ongoing mental health issues. Often, they enjoyed their caring roles and in a way they felt proud of what they were doing. I feel our project helped them to ‘normalise’ their circumstances and showed the other children in the class that because mental health affects one in four of us, they were not so different to their classmates.

The path to positive mental health and the shattering of stereotypes and stigma can start in the classroom and children. While the government’s new mental health strategy, No health without mental health, promotes more teaching of mental strength, or “resilience”, in schools so children grow up better prepared to face the stressors of the world, the caveat is that there will be no extra money to fund this.

“Information about autism is better coming from someone who is autistic”

Simon after winning his award for public speaking on autism from learning disability charity Dimensions

By Simon Smith

My mum and dad realised something was different about me when I was about two to three-years-old, because I played differently to other children. I didn’t engage and interact with others. I didn’t cuddle or give eye contact. I had difficulties with speech and hated change.

I started realising from the age of 14-15 that people were treating me differently and this is when I first realised that I was different. At first I felt kind of annoyed about and wondered why I was getting all the attention. I then asked my mother what was going on with me. She told me I was different to the other kids. First of all she told me all the good things about me; such as my brilliant memory and amazing empathy with animals. She also explained why I was having difficulties in certain areas such as making friends and interacting .

I was diagnosed when I was five. I went to a mainstream school with a statement of special educational needs. At school had I one-to-one support, speech and language therapy. I also attended a behaviour unit and later on had support from the Autistic Spectrum Condition Support Services which came into my school to give advice and support.

Being autistic means I am someone who feels and sees the world in more detail then people without autism. I have heightened senses such as sight, taste, touch ,smell and hearing . This means that I can find things incredibly annoying that wouldn’t bother other people or in some cases it means that I find things more interesting.

Looking back, it was when I started school things became a huge challenge. People often thought I was a trouble-maker (mostly the teachers due to their lack of understanding of my autism and my behaviours). Other students often found me very strange and in some cases would be cruel; bullying me because I was different. Being treated badly by people who didn’t understand me made me very negative about my ambitions and myself which still affects me today. The other thing that makes me different is my obsessions, but I’ve used to help guide me through tough times and they have also created opportunities and brought me success, like the award.

At the moment I have no support except from my parents because the local authority says I don’t meet the criteria.

At the end of last year, I won an Erica Award from learning disability support organisation Dimensions for the talks I do about autism. The annual awards celebrate people with autism who help others. It’s nice to feel appreciated for the hard work I do. I’m very honoured by it and I still can’t believe I won it.

Simon, who loves animals, at home with Rona, the family's dog

My talks came about when my mum was working with pre-school children with autism so when one day she asked for some advice on how to support a child, it made me think back to when I was a child of the same age. I looked back on what made things hard for me and told my mum what it was like from my perceptive. I told mum what it was like for me being autistic and how it affected my everyday life.

My mum said she learnt so much more about autism from me that day that she thought it would be really helpful for other parents. She arranged for me to do a talk to the parents of other children like me.

My talks cover a lot of areas including sensory issues, how my brain works, how I learn to communicate and socialise, my repetition,imitation, obsessions and my behaviour issues. I also offer general advice and strategies to help support people and the opportunity to ask questions. I give out evaluation sheets so people can comment on my talk if they want me to add or change anything.

The feedback is amazing. One parent has written: “I got home yesterday and saw my son from a completely different perspective, thanks to your insight and inside knowledge of autism” and a professional commented: “Simon’s talk was super every trainee teacher/nursery/pre-school worker in the country should meet Simon and hear his experiences. I learnt more in one hour about autism that 20 years as a teacher have ever done. I feel very uplifted and look forward to sharing/reflecting to my colleagues.”

I feel happy that I am going to try and give advice which might help people that I’m talking too. Afterwards I feel mentally tired as it takes a lot out of me and I need feedback from people because I find it hard to tell how well I’ve done.

The feedback from my first talk made me want to help more parents, so my mum asked Amaze – an advice service for parents of children with special needs – if they could help. Through Amaze I did a talk to 27 parents. These parents requested that I spoke to the professionals that they have to deal with because they felt that they were often not listened to. So my mum arranged for me to do talks for professionals such as respite services, PRESENS (Pre-School SEN Services) and two local special schools. I do talks for professional services and parent support groups and have done two workshops at a conference.

It makes me feel uplifted to know how much people appreciate my talks, to be told how much of a difference I am making in helping them to understand more about autism from a personal perspective and this encourages me to do more. I believe that information about autism is better when it comes from someone who is autistic.

My plan is to do more talks and to encourage other people with autism to do them with me and to continue my mentoring. My biggest aim would be to form a group of people with autism who would be confident to be able to attend any meeting regarding anything that might affect people who have autism because I feel it’s very important to have individuals with the problems to speak out and have a voice.

I would like to make councils and governments have someone with the learning disabilities or someone with autism actually on board, attending meetings and giving their own personal input which I think we can all benefit from. If I could get the government to do one thing it would be to consult more with the people that experience the conditions that they are making policies about to get their points of view.

* Simon Smith, 23, from Brighton, won the 2011 Erica Award because of his outstanding contribution to helping others understand what it is like to experience autism.

Breaking stigmas about learning disabled teens

Hardly earth shattering news that teenagers like playing music, chatting at coffee shops, learning to cook (if their parents are lucky) and hanging out with their mates – but how often do you see learning disabled teens doing the same things?

Young people with learning disabilities can face massive barriers when it comes to enjoying the same things as their mainstream peers – often because of prejudice rather than because of a physically inability to cope with the task involved.

I’ve had the misfortune to experience this prejudice with my sister, as have the family of 12-year-old Gregor Morris – forced to leave a West End show for laughing too loudly (it was Wicked for crying out loud – not Chekov).

Which is why we need more of the kind of ad campaign that Mencap’s just launched. The learning disability charity filmed Ellen Goodey, Ben Morse, Kirstie Andrews, Matthew McCarthy and Dharmesh Ladd carrying out everyday tasks like any other young people.

Now I can’t stand reality TV, but frankly, I’ve never been more pleased to watch a bunch of young unknowns doing extremely ordinary things.

Ben Morse at the keyboards in the Mencap ad

Mencap’s new ad, says Mark Goldring, the charity’s chief executive, is a step towards a more inclusive society: “We need to see more positive role models of people like Ellen, Ben, Kirstie, Matthew and Dharmesh on our TVs and in public life to help remove the stigmas associated with disability.”

Matthew McCarthy cooks in the Mencap film

The national TV, radio and print advertising campaign aims to raise £300,000 – the short film explains that if you buy any Procter and Gamble products available at Co-operative Food and Co-operative Pharmacy stores, you help raise funds for Mencap and sister charity ENABLE Scotland as part of The Co-operative’s Charity of the Year Partnership. The promotion will run for six weeks nationwide, with Procter and Gamble donating 3p on each product sold from over 20 of their brands. So now (can’t resist this…) you can wash, and go raise awareness.

Mencap's Ellen Goodey stars in the new ad

Money raised will go towards launching a programme called Inspire Me, aimed at working with young people with a learning disability aged 16-25, their parents, carers, and local communities, to overcome the exclusion and prejudice by providing activities and training, together with volunteering and employment opportunities.

You can watch the ad here:

Ben, one of the stars of the new ad campaign, also features in this previous Mencap film where he and his mother explain how he’s been verbally abused, spat on, pelted with stones and “too scared to leave the house” because of bullying. As his mother, Charlotte says, you can’t wrap a child with learning disabilities in cotton wool “because they’re not learning any of those things they need to learn to be indepdendent”. No better words to show why the campaign is worth supporting.

How Roma integration could be child’s play

It is a simple act that speaks volumes about the barriers that have been broken; a young Roma boy hands a flower to the play worker he had been so challenging towards just two weeks ago.

The scene took place in August at a groundbreaking playscheme run by social enterprise the Big Life group which encouraged Roma children aged 7-11 to mix with their local Manchester counterparts.

As Europe’s largest ethnic minority, the 12m-strong Roma population might be dispersed across the EU, but it is unified in the discrimination routinely faced by its people. From being moved on from traveller sites to outright repatriation, Roma families live in poverty and are reluctant to contact statuary services fear being moved on or suffer harassment.

Negative perceptions of the Roma community in Manchester along with an increase in the number of Roma people wanting to sell The Big Issue in the North led to the launch of the Big Life group summer play scheme (Big Life owns the Big Issue in the North). Open to all children living in the Longsight area of Manchester, it aimed to break down barriers between the communities and reduce the perceived or actual nuisance behaviour over the summer.

The scheme was publicised through leaflets given out during the social enterprise’s family support sessions and through local children’s centres. Word of mouth also encouraged Roma children to access the project.

Children doing al fresco craft activiites at the Big Life group summer scheme

The scheme, jointly funded by Manchester city council and The Big Issue in the North Trust, did not charge participants and 60 children registered across the month-long scheme with a total of 30 per session. Take up was even; 52 % Roma registrations and 48% from other communities.

Project leader Daniel Achim recalls that the scheme got off to a shaky start: “At the beginning all children seemed to be rather slow to action the requests of the play workers. The children were testing the boundaries and the workers had to repeat the same information over and over again in order to get a result.”

Yet, as Achim says, by the end of the playscheme there was a major transformation in the behaviour of the children in terms of respect and politeness to staff. “In a safe and welcoming environment where they were not discriminated against children learned to relax around each other, they learned to share play equipment, they learned to wait their turn.”

Children at the Big Life group scheme in August

While entrenched attitudes towards those who are different can be hard to shatter, the Big Life playscheme shows how to break down barriers through play. Any mutual suspicion was soon overcome. Encouraging integration through play and from an early age is starting to reap rewards.

As Achim says, often the tensions tended to be between children from the same backgrounds: “Sometimes it is easy to see differences between communities – when really it is just kids being kids.”

When ‘thank you’ are the best words you can hear

Jo Sharp, parent support advisor

Jo Sharp, 38, from Croydon, south London, is a parent support advisor with the charity School-Home Support (SHS). Jo works in an infant school, a junior and a secondary, all in south Croydon. Here she explains why her role is vital and describes its challenges its rewards.

I became a parent support advisor because…I’d provided support to my neighbours, it became apparent to me that there were many families and children who weren’t receiving the help they were entitled to. I enjoy the range and diversity of the work as well as the fact that I reach out to families directly and provide a holistic service to them.

My aim is…to develop a supportive environment for the families and children. For me, the relationship is often the work and I feel it is a great privilege to be allowed into people’s lives and share in their experiences.

The first child I helped support was…suffering from extreme anxiety over going to school and his attendance was below 50% as a result.

Teachers knew there was an issue with this child because…he’d attend maybe two or three days a week and leave early. He appeared withdrawn and lacked confidence.

The first thing I did was…meet his family to look at possible reasons for his anxiety. His parents were extremely worried and had tried to support him in the best way they could. Despite this, the child would often lock himself away in his room rather than face questions about school. His parents and I agreed that I would meet with him in school rather than at home.

The reaction I got from him was… we spent a long time discussing his experiences at school and his feelings regarding his own self esteem and confidence. Because he had started school in year eight, he’d missed out on the bonding with his peers in year seven. This had a big impact on how he felt he fitted in, and he’d started to put himself second to everyone else in his quest to ‘be liked’. He’d also started to develop much faster than some of his peers so felt he stood out too much. All this had left him feeling increasingly anxious about coming to school until he just couldn’t face anymore. Over the weeks we looked at ways of improving his assertiveness and developing a positive image of himself. He was allowed a reduced timetable at school, gradually building up to full days.

I knew we’d started to get somewhere when…he became more active at the weekends and started playing football and socialising more with others. Prior to this he found it difficult to leave the safety of his house for prolonged periods.

The hardest thing was…keeping up the momentum. It would only take a slight knock for him to feel anxious, however by maintaining close contact with him and his family and being there to support him when he was feeling anxious, the anxiety became less severe.

The most rewarding thing was…to find that he’d not missed one day of school and that he’d really turned his life around! His attendance is 100% and he participates in activities outside of school, his teachers have said he’s much more positive in school and appears to enjoy his time there. His family has also expressed their delight at having their son back!

To do this job you need to be…patient! Change doesn’t happen overnight. The rewards are fantastic when you see first hand how the support you have played a part in has had positive effects on families and young people. I believe that you need to be able to connect emotionally with the families, having empathy and compassion whilst also being able to look at the bigger picture and think logically about what support can be provided. A good understanding of local services and outside agencies is key.

The biggest problem facing the sort of young children I help support is…a lack of understanding. Sometimes it is very practical support that is required and at other times it is more emotional, but either way I feel that young people often feel misunderstood because we as adults actually lack a perspective on their world.

If I could have a word in education secretary Michael Gove’s ear I’d…ask that more focus be placed on supporting families and children in and outside of school. It works!

The best thing a child I’ve helped support has said to me is…thank you!

Half of all children spot signs of neglect in their peers

Full story on Action for Children’s shocking new research in a piece I did for today’s Society Guardian. Makes you think twice about the shabbily-dressed boy at school who no one wanted to play with or the scrawny girl who got bullied in the playground. There’s a fine line between creating a vigilant society and encouraging the scaremongering finger-pointers, but today’s new report raises some important concerns ahead of the spending review that’s likely to decimate funding for child welfare.

How to save society £21 for every £1 spent

Campaign film from charity School Home Support from Divert on Vimeo.

The school term has barely begun, but some things are for certain; new shoes are already scuffed, fresh friendships are being formed and, on average, up to eight children in every classroom are living in poverty.

George, for example, was persistently late for his primary school in the north east of England and was also collected late – usually by different people. After a fire at his council flat, he and his lone parent mother had been allocated a new home but could not afford to furnish it so had moved in with relatives. George had trouble concentrating in class and suffered from nightmares.

Things changed after support from an independent, school-based welfare worker who wrote to George’s mother about the school’s concerns. The worker, from charity School Home Support (SHS), applied for money from the organisation’s support welfare fund for a double bed, so that they could at least sleep in the new flat. George and his mother moved in, a bit of stability entered their lives and the worker is still supporting them to furnish their new home.

As George’s case proves, there are complex reasons why children end up truants, troublemakers or bullies, why they are always late or why they fail to do their homework. Although it is dangerous to suggest poverty alone is to blame, most experts agree that it is the root of many behavioural problems.

School-Home Support is one source of support. It offers school-based emotional and practical support through practitioners who help children and families in more than 240 primaries in 22 local authority areas across England. SHS staff are a non-timetabled resource, talking to parents at the school gates and visiting families at home with the aim of creating a link with school.

Scratch beneath the surface of an average classroom, according to SHS figures, and around seven children will have witnessed domestic violence, six will have been exposed to substance misuse and one child will be a carer for a family member. The idea is to nip problems in the bud before they appear and offer support beyond the classroom. SHS practitioners deal with issues such as parents who feel isolated because English is not their first language or families coping with substance misuse or mental health problems.

Last year the 26-year-old charity reached over 19,000 children and young people like George. It costs £5m to run a year, with funding from local authorities that have contracts with SHS, voluntary donations, support from venture philanthropy fund the Private Equity Foundation.

A recent evaluation of the social and economic impact of its work found that for every pound spent on SHS, £21.14 is saved across society in terms of reducing the cost of dealing with unemployment, crime, exclusion and the increased income as a result of higher educational attainment. A June 2007 report by consultancy New Philanthropy Capital compared the cost of SHS interventions with the cost of school exclusions and found that if all those in danger of exclusion had access to its services, then society would save £90m a year.

In the current climate, this sort of work is more relevant than ever; the knock-on impact of job losses can have profound effects on educational attainment. SHS staff point out that an event like the 1,700 jobs lost thanks to the closure of the Corus steel works on Teeside, for example, could effect families, relationships, dynamics and ultimately children’s behaviour and ability to perform, concentrate or attend school.

SHS has links to the whole family, it is well-placed to work with local authorities and other public sector agencies, supporting the coordination of services. Interestingly, it also puts paid to the myth that some people are ‘hard to reach’. In fact, it’s often the support services that are hard to find, because parents think they’re unapproachable or simply don’t know about them, and if they do, the onus is on the individual to make contact.

Let’s leave the last word to Angela, a mother-of-five from Hackney: “SHS were the only ones who never judged me as a parent. Carla, our SHS practitioner in school, never said ‘you’re no good.’ I’m not perfect but I do my best for my kids and I love them.”