If it can happen here...

12th September 2003 at 01:00
Drive through the streets of Royston in Hertfordshire and it looks like any prosperous small town in southern England. But three years ago Rhona Seviour, head of Greneway middle school, picked up the phone to a GP colleague and asked if it was just her "going off her trolley" or were they all in it together?

"We had children coming in to school who were emotionally upset, who hadn't eaten, and who were not wearing the appropriate clothes.

"This is Middle England, but children were arriving without having had a wash or anything to eat or drink; we were seeing problems with drugs, alcohol, depression and teenage pregnancy. Children as young as five were being put on Ritalin for behaviour problems."

As a result of her phone call, health and education professionals in the area have developed a local counselling service for young people and families, reviewed the role of the school nurse, undergone joint training on eating disorders, and set up a drop-in GP surgery at the high school.

Health visitors have been given extra training in child and adolescent mental health, and a healthy lifestyle is being stressed, both in and out of school.

It has not been straightforward. Issues of privacy have arisen and parenting classes seemed to be reaching only those who didn't need them.

Now a programme of sessions run by parents themselves is being piloted.

"What all this has given us is a clearer route to offer support to students and families," says Peter Fielden, headteacher of nearby Roysia middle school.

"Parents tend to shy away from do-gooders. If you are less able to cope, then you are often less likely to ask for help. But we have other avenues through which to suggest support." Which is not to say all the problems have been solved. Many children still arrive at school weighed down with physical or emotional problems. "But we all feel there are much closer links now," says Rhona Seviour, "You can at least pick up the phone and talk through a problem with someone you know."

Rhona Seviour left Greneway middle school this summer to become a school inspector

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