Charity begins at school for victims

1st April 2005 at 01:00
Standing four foot tall in her jeans and trainers, Rachel looked like any typical seven-year-old. But staff at Clase primary, in Swansea's tough Penlan area, knew something was very wrong.

"Rachel was extremely withdrawn, almost virtually silent in the classroom," said teacher Jan Washbrook. "She obviously needed help. The school was aware she had had problems early on in life, but not the details."

The details were grim. Rachel had witnessed much of the domestic violence heaped upon her mother and, as the eldest of four, had tried to shield her siblings. The strain took its toll. She wet the bed, could not sleep and would sit silently alone in her room for hours. Her mother, Sophie, was increasingly worried.

"Rachel didn't know how to let her feelings out. She tried to protect the others and forgot who was mum, I think."

Rachel was lucky. The school referred her to Children Matter, a service run by Barnardo's Cymru, which supports primary-school children with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Services like these are usually only available in secondary schools. The idea is to help struggling parents and teachers before the children get to their teens, to avoid social services intervention or school exclusion.

Barnardo's established a good relationship with Rachel's mother and helped her with bedtime routines, which in turn helped Rachel sleep.

In class, Barnardo's helped Rachel in groups of three or four, discussing issues like friendship. Children were keen to be picked for Rachel's "special groups".

The Penlan estate is an area of considerable deprivation, with high unemployment and many children on free meals. At Cadle primary, 58 per cent of pupils are on the special-needs register and a significant number have behavioural and emotional problems, says headteacher John O'Brien.

But he says: "Children Matter is a chance for us to do more as it works with the school, the child and their family at home."

As well as helping referred children, project workers run parent-support groups and helped Cadle teachers set up circle-time sessions for every year group, working on self-discipline and self-esteem.

Names and details have been changed to protect anonymity Barnardo's Cymru: 029 2049 3387

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