Amid the talk of troubled families and approaching the anniversary of the 2011 summer riots, it’s tempting for many to pigeonhole young people as feckless and hopeless. A Europe-wide project, however, aims to encourage a new generation of social entrepreneurs into the movement for social change.
Teams of young entrepreneurs aged 15-18 from 10 European countries have just competed in JA-YE’s (which is funded by businesses, institutions, foundations and individuals) first competition to create social businesses. with the entries judged different countries.
The winning enterprise Nomeno (“No means no”), from Norway, developed Safe and Sound, a bracelet with a warning whistle that helps summon help in an emergency. The team is donating profits to the to the Norwegian National Association for Victims of Violence. Second place went to Russian young people, for the social enterprise TrustCane to create advanced walking aid canes.
Think Fit, a team from Tre-Gib School, Carmarthenshire, representing the UK, came third. The project, aimed at boosting healthy living, created activity cards in different languages to encourage children to exercise. The social business also produces branded water bottles, T-Shirts, high-visibility tabards and bags. The young people have also created Welsh, French and Spanish versions of the pack.
I suppose the niggling concern I have is how easy it is for kids to access the kind of scheme run by JA-YE- not being an education specialist, I’m not certain how schools would have things like this on their radars. That said, with much focus on the lost generation of n’er do wells, it’s worth nodding anything that aims not only to raise aspirations, but teach practical skills to make young people more employable.
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.
The world is changing rapidly for young people who have to learn to survive and perform in a competitive global environment. Now, more than ever, is the time for young people to take the lead in developing themselves and in having a positive impact on the individuals and communities around them.
I work for Mosaic, a charitable initiative of HRH The Prince of Wales, creating opportunities for young people of every background. We aim to have a positive effect on confidence, employability and self efficacy. By showing young people what inspirational leadership looks like, introducing them to role models who they can relate to, and persuading them that they too can be leaders who make a positive impact on the people around them – we aim to turn frustration and inertia into action and responsibility.
We have found some key factors to encouraging young people to discover their leadership skills. First is the definition of what is successful and inspiring leadership. For many young people, they do not consider themselves leadership material because they are not famous enough or wealthy enough or old enough.
However, through examining the character traits of effective leaders, using real life examples, we identify that the skills of a good leader are those which can be trained and developed – they are not simply based on an individual’s position or celebrity or charisma but instead are focused on serving others and behaving responsibly and consistently. A good example is that of listening skills. Every leader needs to demonstrate that they can fully attend to a colleague’s concerns, reflecting back on what they have heard, and asking clarifying questions to help reach a solution. This is a skill which can be taught and honed amongst young people.
Second is the recognition of personal emotional resilience. It is critical to understand that all leaders face difficulties on a daily basis, and that the ability to navigate these with a positive outlook and bounce back from disappointments, brings strength rather than demonstrates failure. We ask young people to recall a time when they have felt particularly under pressure, and to consider how they endured this and who supported them. This has as much relevance for school aged students as it does for those in the work environment, and is certainly a skill that can be developed.
Third, and related to resilience, is the need for leaders to have a network in which they can share resources, continue learning and be open to feedback. The Mosaic International Summit, our international leadership development programme is a great example of this; by bringing together leaders from different backgrounds and perspectives, invaluable exchange of ideas takes place and also, many cross cultural stereotypes and fears are shattered. As one of our alumni said, “there is no source of inspiration greater than a person who has been in the same place you are, yet has surmounted the odds. “
* Alison Bradley is the international director at Mosaic, a charitable initiative of HRH The Prince of Wales. She oversees the leadership development programme, which aims to grow leadership ability in young people and equip them to be a positive part of their communities. Alison has previously worked in a number of organisations which support young people, in the UK and abroad.
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.
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.
William Wright left his Somerset school with a handful of GCSEs. Confused about what to do after school, he felt his teachers had “given up” on him. Wright found temporary work as a plasterer but lacked the qualifications for a permanent job. Unemployed and uncertain, he fell into a vicious circle; being jobless destroyed his confidence and made him feel depressed, which made it difficult to find work. Now 26, he says: “I felt like a failure. Unemployment knocked my self-esteem and made me feel like I wasn’t good enough at anything.”
One million 16- to 24-year-olds in the UK are not in education, employment or training, just as William was. Read more here in my piece from the Guardian on Saturday.
And in the same youth supplement this piece by Kate Murray, who also blogs on this site, explores how to restore young people’s faith and involvement in politics with comments from MPs – including children’s minister, Tim Loughton – youth workers and community activists.
This evening the charity YoungMinds hosts its annual debate in London on the controversial topic of whether our target driven schools system is damaging children’s wellbeing. The charity aims to improve the mental health and emotional well-being of children and young people.
The discussion will be chaired by the BBC’s Home Editor, Mark Easton with panellists including Fiona Millar, journalist and education campaigner, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts, Karen Robinson, head of education and equality at the National Union of Teachers, Ian Morris, Head of Wellbeing at Wellington College and Adele Eastman, senior policy specialist at the Centre for Social Justice.
After what promises to be a controversial debate, the event will conclude with a short film made by young people who are part of the Very Important Kids (VIK) participation group – of which I am a member – on this subject and the stigma faced by young people with mental health difficulties.
The film to be shown tells the story of a schoolgirl called Jessie who, though having no diagnosed mental illness is experiencing a great deal of emotional distress and finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the amount of stress she is under, especially with exams looming and pressure from school and family to perform well. Every year around exam time we hear of the stress young people are being placed under to achieve top grades, sometimes to the detriment of their mental health. Our film hopes to shine a light on this issue, promote debate and emphasise the importance of good emotional wellbeing to prevent future mental health difficulties.
Acted, directed and produced by members of the VIK group we aim to produce a trilogy of films centred on the theme of young people’s mental health, ranging from emotional problems to more severe forms of mental illness. The message we endeavour to get across is that every one of us is susceptible to mental health difficulties; we all exist on a continuum from happiness, to sadness, to an inability to cope and then mental illness.
Mental health is not simply an affliction of the few but something one in four of us can expect to experience in our lifetime. Because of this understanding how to take care of your emotional wellbeing and building resilience from a young age is vital and another theme which will be interweaved through the trilogy.
Having mental health difficulties from a young age can bring with it its own stigma. Young people can feel stigmatised against in society anyway, for a whole host of reasons and when you add on to that the stigma of having a mental health problem it can be really difficult to trust anyone enough to talk to them about what you are experiencing, or even find someone willing to listen and empathise.
All the young people involved in making this film have experience of mental health difficulties and the desire to challenge old ideas about mental health is something we feel passionately about. Demystifying what it’s like to be a young person with mental health difficulties can go a long way to tackling stigma and educating future generations that mental health isn’t just about mental illness and definitely not something to be afraid of.
* This evening we will also celebrate the launch of a new project, YoungMinds in Schools, to improve the emotional wellbeing of children and young people in school. The programme aims to improve outcomes for children and young people with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties by bringing together professionals, parents, children and young people to create a comprehensive suite of learning resources.
The project seeks to maximise the potential to positively influence the emotional wellbeing and mental health of the whole school community, adults and children, as well as addressing the specific needs of pupils identified as having behavioural, emotional and social difficulties (BESDs).
The programme will work collaboratively with clusters of primary and secondary schools and the services that link to those schools, providing training and consultancy support to schools and gathering the views of professionals, parents and pupils to shape innovative resources. YoungMinds has received two years funding from the Department for Education (DfE) through its Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) programme for the YoungMinds in Schools project.
This film should stop you in your tracks. Its power to move puts it almost on a par, as Channel Four’s Jon Snow said at its launch today, with the seminal Cathy Come Home.
The short film by the charity the Private Equity Foundation (PEF) features 11-year-old Luke, one of the 1.6m children living in poverty today. As Luke explains his hopes for the future (or rather, his lack of hope) the film also focuses on the issue of NEETs (young people not in education, employment or training).
The film is part of the Luke’s World campaign to draw attention to the lack of opportunity facing children and young people and explain how their lives can be improved by creating better links between education and employment. As PEF chief executive Shaks Ghosh writes over on the campaign blog, Luke lets us briefly into his world and “gives us a glimpse of a national scandal: what life is like for the 1.6 million children still growing up in poverty in the UK today.”
He may only be 11, but already he knows that his dream to become a vet might never be fulfilled. The poverty he suffers, as Ghosh stresses, isn’t simply “the damp and peeling paint, the depressing tower blocks, the absent father, the 16-year-old sister who has left school to look after her baby and the mother who hasn’t worked for four years”. No, what Luke lacks is life chances and consistent support which will help him stay on the path from school into work.
The PEF has launched ThinkForward, a scheme to plug the gap between school and work. The aim is to support young people hand from 14 to 19, allocate them a personal ‘coach’ to support them with an action plan that encourages them to access local projects and work opportunities.
The launch of the campaign featuring Luke coincides with a report published today by The Work Foundation and the PEF that has uncovered 10 blackspots for youth disengagement – cities where between one in five and one in four young people are not in education, employment or training. The recession exacerbated this problem, with the largest increases in neet rates in those cities which already had high levels. Read more about it here.
As Ghosh has argued on this blog before, early intervention is vital unless today’s Lukes become tomorrow’s neets.
Back to school after the half term break today and while some children will have enjoyed days out or trips away, two million live in families that can’t afford a day trip to the seaside, never mind a holiday.
Today is also the day that an All Party Parliamentary Group on social tourism is due to publish its findings. Its remit over the last few months has been “to investigate and promote the social and economic benefits of social tourism”, social tourism generally meaning that families on low incomes are helped to afford a break. Family breaks, say supporters of social tourism, can lead to children being more engaged at school, boost social integration, help with health issues and encourage economic growth in under-used resorts or regions which suffer from the ebb and flow of seasonal tourism.
But while not being able to take holidays has been used as a poverty indicator by the government since 2003, it’s easy to see why social tourism is a contentious issue. After all, why should you have a holiday if you don’t have a job to take a break from? Why should the taxpayer fund your vacation if you don’t earn enough to pay for your own?
The debate also touches on issues such as allowing children out of school during term time (to take advantage of off-peak breaks) as well as notions of charity handouts to jobless families and their “naughty children”. As one teacher commented in a Guardian piece earlier this year on charity holidays “There was resentment from some of the families not chosen…We were accused of ‘taking the naughty children’. We didn’t, but perhaps it was understandable that they thought so.”
The Family Holiday Association, the charity where that two million statistic I quoted above came from, helps low income families have time away. The organisation takes referrals from welfare agencies like social services and children’s charities, helping those with a yearly household income of below £26,000 access holidays and who have not had a break for four years.
While social tourism in the UK is somewhat ad-hoc – the Family Holiday Association relies on voluntary donations to fund families in need of a break and invidivual social services departments might have case-by-case funding for respite breaks – the rest of Europe has state-aided social tourism.
French “holiday cheques”, for example, can be used for accommodation, food, transport, leisure and culture. Employees get help to make regular savings, supplemented by employers and social organisations which get reduced taxes in return. The employee redeems the total value of the savings and supplementary contributions in the form of holiday cheques. In Spain, a state and benificiary-funded holiday programme funds breaks for older people which also tackle seasonality in the tourism sector. It gives older people the chance for holidays in off-peak areas with a warm climate.
Lynn Minnaert, lecturer in tourism at Surrey University who runs a programme for the Economic and Social Research Council on social tourism, has contributed to the APPAG report. She argues that while the policy concept is on the UK’s political agenda as a talking point, there is little clear action on social tourism.
Minnaert’s Europe-wide research includes schemes where people have improved their family relationships and been helped into employment or boosted their mental health (this, although published a while ago, is an interesting article by Clare Allen on why people with mental health problems rarely take holidays). Minnaert argues the time is right for the UK to embrace the concept of social tourism but acknowledges that “the misconception that the government will pay people to go on holidays” makes proper debate difficult.
But Minnaert adds that social tourism isn’t simply about “state-funded holidays”; the state could provide a service to put people in touch with holiday and leisure venues that stand empty, from barely occupied seaside B&Bs to underused cafes and restaurants. Resorts with low occupancy could specialize on a more organised basis in holidays for those coming out of hospital, she adds (after all, the health benefits of seawater is what made resorts like Brighton became fashionable in the late 18th century) and be involved in more respite care projects for families with disabled children.
Minnaert says she hopes the APPG report due today will show social tourism is cost-effective and encourage a new social policy to the UK, getting past the “government paying for unemployed to go on holiday” school of thought to a more grown-up debate on the issue.
In terms of practical action, next steps include a forum or network between tourism sector and policy – “on both sides there is willingness to look into this, but no vehicle” – and mapping of under-used holiday provision. Minneart also suggests new joint procurement for people who cannot travel independently or who have not travelled before, transport providers could get involved.
The Family Holiday Association has complied comments from those they have helped, among them a family where the youngest child needed regular hospital treatment and where the father was unemployed and had cancer. The family had a seaside break in Skegness, and although a world away from the hot, faraway destinations most people refer to when they say they “need a holiday”, the long-term impact of the break was priceless. As the family’s support worker said: “I could see that the three week build up to the holiday was as important as the holiday itself. And for the next six months the family lived off the break.”
Above, young carers talk about their role in a Carers Week film.
Next time you feel fed up with doing the household chores, think about Ryan. At 13, he cooks, cleans, does the laundry and helps both his disabled parents get around the house. His father has Crohn’s disease and his mother is disabled.
Aside from the physical requirements of his role as a young carer, Ryan shoulders a huge amount of emotional stress; life is unpredictable because his parents’ health varies from day to day. Getting ready for school in the morning, for example, is hard because he worries about leaving his parents alone and fears his dad will be in hospital when he gets home. The teenager gets frequent headaches, stomach aches and suffers from irritable bowel syndrome, all of which his GP says is stress-related. It is easy to see how being a young carer can adversely affect education, health and wellbeing and lead to isolation and anxiety.
Ryan, who is lucky enough to be supported by a young carers project run by the charity Action for Children, is one of an estimated 700,000 children and young people who have caring responsibilities. Young carers represent over 10% of the UK’s 6m carers, the group of people highlighted in Carers Week this week.
Action for Children is using Carers Week to demand that the government and councils do not ignore the plight of young carers. The charity has released new figures today which show that, in a survey of 23 Action for Children young carers projects, services supporting 1,192 young carers have had their budgets cut by up to 30%. A further 192 young carers are supported by services that have suffered budget cuts of 40% or more.
As Ryan says, he would be lost without support from his young carers project. “I really rely on that time with my support worker to express my worries. It’s amazing to share my experiences with other young carers who understand what it is like to be me. I love my parents but sometimes I get cross with them because we don’t have a normal life and I can’t do the same things as my friends. I used to feel guilty and bad about those feelings but after talking to other young carers I know that we all have feelings like that sometimes and its okay. The young carers project arranges all sorts of activities for us to help us relax and enjoy our time off from looking after our parents. It’s like having a little holiday away from all the worry.”
Budget cuts to support services for young carers save money now but run the risk of undermining young carers’ futures. As Hugh Thornbery, director of children’s services at Action for Children, says, there is already a huge danger that those who need care start relying on children and young people to support them even more as statutory service provision is decimated. This situation, as the charity stresses, effectively means young carers – many of whom spend up to 50 hours a week looking after a relative – bear the brunt of the country’s deficit and might end up paying for it with their futures.
* To find out more the impact of caring resonsibilities on the young, try also checking out the very good Victoria Cares site, a week-long campaign by children’s charity Spurgeons revealing a week in the life of young carer Victoria.
Local philanthropy and volunteers have driven the ‘big society’ in Surrey for years. So is David Cameron’s flagship project only viable for affluent communities? England’s well-heeled home counties are the natural habitat of Cameron’s “big society”. The combination of a time- and cash-rich population and minuscule pockets of deprivation is more conducive to citizens becoming involved and running services than in more deprived areas. Click here to read the piece in Society Guardian today.