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A place to be to defuse distress

The Place to Be, a pioneering charity offering therapeutic support to inner-city primary schools is to expand nationwide.

The London-based group this week launched a three-year research and pilot project to examine how its scheme can be adapted for other parts of the country.

The Place to Be works in nine London primary schools offering children a chance to talk things over with one of 140 therapists, counsellors and trainee counsellors working for free.

With co-ordinated mental health services under increasing financial pressure, headteachers have described The Place to Be as invaluable. The charity currently deals with 875 children.

Its expansion plans have now been sponsored by the BT Forum - a recent offshoot of British Telecommunications plc which intends to raise public awareness of social communication problems.

A preliminary research project carried out by Dr Lorraine Sherrat of the Royal Free Hospital in north London suggests that half the children demonstrate a dramatic change of behaviour after spending time with the project.

Children's distress is rated 2.4 at referral (on a scale of 0 to 4) and only 1.6 after counselling. After their time at The Place to Be, 49 per cent show a dramatic change of behaviour.

Nearly all the children are seen weekly for a period of eight months. Their most significant worries are about communication (43 per cent); social relations (46 per cent); family (59 per cent) and self-image (63 per cent).

Between 20 and 40 per cent of the children have behavioural problems - which often affect their friendships, concentration and learning.

Most of the referrals are through a teacher but nearly one-fifth of children refer themselves. Roughly half, 48.4 per cent, have two parents, 37.3 per cent one parent, and 14.3 per cent are in council care. One fifth are of Afro-Caribbean origin, and one tenth are Asian.

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