A tailor-made system based on activity picture cards is helping children with emotional difficulties face up to their problems. Liz Swinden reports
The urgency in Bob Skeldon's voice and the almost evangelical fervour he conveys as he describes his company, Insight Consultancy, is enough to convince anyone that this is a man who believes utterly in what he does. And that is to help those on the edge, for whom regular education or social infrastructure is non-existent or dysfunctional.
Bob was a teacher who went on to work in a school support centre for young people with severe emotional and behavioural difficulties for 15 years. It was here that he began to experiment with the ideas that later coalesced into Insight.
Working with young people for whom disaffection, inappropriate behaviour, truancy and exclusion are real and urgent issues has never been easy, whether in a school setting or outside it. Meaningful communication is paramount, but how do you achieve it? Bob developed a new approach to the problems of working with these young people, their families and carers.
He started with the premise that each person is unique, with needs that should be addressed as such, that each is entitled to care and respect, that each deserves the opportunity to explore his or her feelings in a safe environment and that each is capable of change.
The methods he evolved are based on using a series of attractive laminated activity cards. It sounds unprepossessing, but what makes the Insight resources different is that each programme is individually tailor-made, based on information provided by the carer or assisting agency.
Take Jane, for example, a 14-year-old who is causing concern because of her lifestyle, which alarms everybody except herself. Her school attendance is erratic. She seems to keep putting herself in dangerous situations. Her parents have failed to set appropriate limits.
A professional working with Jane believes that unless her damaging view of herself is addressed, her difficulties will only get worse. She contacts Insight, which despatches its Programme Design Information form, covering a huge range of "issues".
Issues, in Jane's case, mean her self-worth and self-image, her assessment of situations and her attitude to authority and responsibility. Another client would detail a different set of issues. These are noted on the form along with information about Jane's situation and any aims and objectives the professional believes would be useful.
Insight then sends an outline programme within two or three days. This can be further adapted if necessary, and the complete programme arrives a few days later.
Jane's professional receives an eight-session programme. Each session is based on one of the laminated resource cards that will help Jane to explore her issues.
An activity called "How much is Jane worth?" involves her turning over cards with positive or negative qualities. She decides whether she has none, or pound;50 or pound;100 worth of this and puts it in the appropriate bank. Her responses are challenged, supported or clarified after each card, then totalled, and her positive and negative "worth" is discussed.
Anne Darling is a teacher in charge of education development in the Department of Social Work Management in Edinburgh who worked with Bob in developing the Insight materials. She says that, although there is no shortage of materials for social and personal education at a basic level, people like herself, who work all the time with needy young people who cannot be in school, need more resources.
She and her colleagues continue to use the Insight materials in one-to-one counselling situations, in work with families and carers and in their own staff training. The materials are popular, too, with the people they are designed to help. They love using them because it gives them a chance to talk frankly about the "deep stuff".
Alison Jackson, a senior education welfare officer in Derby, and her colleagues, very quickly realised Insight's potential. In the short time they have been using the resources in one-to-one sessions with young people in local authority care, they have seen what an effective starting point the cards make, especially with children who have no idea why they are so unhappy and are difficult to engage.
Alison plans to extend the use of the Insight resources to work in family centres. She says they would also be effective for group work with teenage mothers, for example, or young prisoners.
Bob has trained groups of education welfare officers in Derby and Leicester to use the materials and has been talking to the Home Office about using them with young prisoners as part of the Government's car crime initiative.
The cost of the programmes varies, but one similar to Jane's would cost around pound;250, but it could just as easily be used with a group of young people. Bob points out that any work that aims to meet the complex needs of young people and their families is not going to be cheap. But, he maintains he provides "an innovative, imaginative, practical and user-friendly form of engaging with young people and their families and carers".
* Insight Consultancy and Resources, 18 Lakeside Drive, Derby DE23 7US. Tel: 01332 523499