Now pupils can Relate their private worries

1st February 2008 at 00:00
Webcam conferencing saves travelling time, so relationship counsellors can help more children.

Big brother-style diary rooms that let 10- to 14-year-olds discuss problems with a counsellor via webcam have been set up in two schools.

The service, in Portsmouth, is part of a pilot scheme funded by Relate, the counselling organisation.

"The children are in a room with the door closed, but there is a staff member on hand in case the child gets distressed," said Jan Fleming, head of Somers Park Primary.

"They can have serious issues to discuss. I was amazed to find that some children of 10 have suicidal thoughts. They might want to talk about something that is making them unhappy, which might only take one session, or a deeper matter which takes six or 10 meetings."

Parental permission was obtained before the scheme began.

Pupils discuss their worries with a counsellor on-screen. This allows Relate staff to counsel more children - because travel time to the school is cut out. Using a screen can make it easier for some to talk freely.

"It can take a bit of a sales job to make young people see the worth of giving it a go," said Sharon Watt, head of City of Portsmouth Girls' School, a 1,000-pupil secondary. "The girls' initial reaction was to get giggly and embarrassed. But those who have used it managed well.

"It has really helped two pupils settle into school life."

Relate aims to have 10 schools in Portsmouth involved in the pound;35,000 project over the next three years. So far, 13 children have had about 53 sessions and the organisation hopes that once all schools are on board, the sessions will run for two full days a week.

Jackie Buckley, the Portsmouth Relate centre manager, said: "Children do think of it in terms of Big Brother and the diary room.

"The sort of things that come up are bullying, mum and dad separating, depression ... all sorts of issues.

"The transition between primary and secondary is a difficult time for children and most exclusions happen in the first two years in secondary schools. We want to see if this project can make a difference."

This is the first time Relate has used webcam counselling.

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