Pupil counselling at risk

9th January 2009 at 00:00
An Edinburgh charity which provides valuable support to children could lose its funding

During the last school year a charity providing counselling in Edinburgh primaries requested that 10 children be placed on the child protection register and submitted 20 "notes of concern".

More than 100 children in 10 Edinburgh schools were referred to its counsellors, with 2,484 counselling sessions taking place. A further 1,563 children visited its break-time drop-in service.

Now the work of the charity, The Place2Be, is at risk from local efficiency savings.

The children experience problems ranging from domestic abuse and trauma to playground fall-outs and bullying, and they and their families are supported by The Place2Be working inside schools to improve their health and well-being.

The charity insists on its own private space in the school, where it can run a drop-in service and give one-to-one or group counselling. A parent worker also supports many of the children's parents.

Moira Hood, project manager at Canal View Primary in Wester Hailes, says: "Our room is set up to help children tell their stories. Many don't have the vocabulary to talk about the issues that are worrying or concerning them.

"We have arts and crafts materials and a home corner to help them share their worries."

Headteacher Anne Nicol says: "Having The Place2Be in school means we are seeing different children in front of us who are happier and at peace with themselves and feeling good about life."

However, the schools in which the charity operates - all serving deprived areas - have expressed concern that they may not be able to continue funding the scheme.

Edinburgh City Council is expected to ask schools to make efficiency savings of 2 per cent next year. At Canal View that translates as Pounds 18,000-Pounds 20,000.

"When you talk about that kind of money, you are beginning to look at man power," says Ms Nicol.

The Place2Be arrived in Scotland in 2001 and currently works just in Edinburgh, although the charity is keen to expand.

It costs almost Pounds 30,000 a year to provide the service. Schools in Edinburgh cover Pounds 6,000 of the cost, the city council provides a further Pounds 6,000 per school and the rest is funded by the charity.

Schools currently participating include Balgreen, Burdiehouse, Canal View, Craigroyston, Forthview, Longstone, Murrayburn Castle, Niddrie Mill, St Catherine's and St Francis primaries.

The charity also runs a service in the independent Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh.

Jonathan Wood, national manager for The Place2Be, says: "Recent research suggests that the most reliable indicators of mental-health difficulties in children and young people are not economic factors, but social ones."



Barry Thompson's daughter Kate is "a different girl" after receiving one-to-one counselling at Canal View, he says.

When Kate joined Canal View Primary in P5, she was on the child protection register for putting herself at risk by repeatedly running away from school. "Her mother had taken her away from me but after about 14 months I got access," says Mr Thompson. "I would take the kids at the weekend and then drop them at school on the other side of the city on the Monday. But Kate would always be so afraid she would never see me again, she'd run away from school."

Mr Thompson came to Kate's school at break times to reassure her, but it made no difference. He felt Kate needed support but there was no in-school service and she refused to attend the child and adolescent mental health service, after her brother labelled it as being for loonies.

When it was decided the children should live with Mr Thompson, he moved Kate to Canal View. "All the time I was trying to find help for Kate at the other school, Canal View, over the road, had the help we needed. I'm quite surprised every school in the city doesn't benefit, because the service is excellent.

"The counselling is her personal moment, so we don't discuss it much, but when she does talk about it her face lights up. She enjoys it."

Kate, now 10, continues to receive counselling from The Place2Be.

Names have been changed


The Place2Be has trained over a dozen senior pupils from Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh to act as mentors in local primaries. The 16 S5 and S6 pupils visit Balgreen Primary once a week to spend time with individuals and groups.

Nicknamed "big friends" by the children, some of the boys work with classes and groups, facilitating games and sports. Others are matched with vulnerable children and act as peer mentors.

Helen Forrester, project manager at Balgreen, says: "This has been a wonderful project. The Merchiston Castle boys have been skilled, warm and committed. The children have benefited from spending time with older young people who are different from their parents and schools staff."

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