Charity offers help without any stigma

9th February 1996 at 00:00
The Place To Be is a London-based charity started by Camila Batmanghelidjh in 1993 because of a suicidal seven-year-old. The child tried to hang herself, put a plastic bag over her head, and sat on rubbish outside her home hoping the dustmen would take her away. Because her mother did not keep appointments at the child and family guidance clinic, Camila started seeing the child in school.

Three years on, The Place To Be (TP2B) has more than 125 trained and training therapists and counsellors working in seven primary and two infant schools and sees 554 children - the youngest is four - a week.

The service, funded by BT Forum donations and school contributions, aims to provide early on-site intervention, as well as emotional and learning support using art, play, drama, music and movement, "before their view of life turns to hopelessness".

"There is no stigma attached to seeking help," says director Betina Refson. "Children can self-refer. The Place To Be is seen as a positive experience, a place where people want to hear what children have to say."

The teams see children on an individual basis and in groups, both during the day and after hours. Each child has a volunteer attached who makes a commitment of one year on a weekly basis. They also support teachers, parents and carers, playground supervisors - the whole school community - help with referrals to other agencies and maintain close contact with social services.

"It's a question of switching the way people work," says Ms Refson. "It's often a real lack of communication between professionals."

The Place To Be is at present being evaluated by Dr Lorraine Sherr, of the Royal Free Hospital. When the evaluation is completed in 1997, they hope to develop the model and extend into other schools. "We're offering young children a safe space where they can be heard and can understand what's happened and what's happening to them."

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