Therapeutic care for kids in Essex schools

Therapeutic service Kids Inspire has won many admirers, not least among the young people who use it. Andrew Mickel reports

“I love therapy” isn’t the sort of thing you would expect to hear a young teenager say to his friends at school. And, given the deprived Melbourne estate that is the catchment area for St Peter’s College in Chelmsford, this seems even less likely.

However, a project is attempting to tackle the complex problems of the area by making an emotionally intelligent approach the norm in relations inside and outside all the schools of west Chelmsford.

Kids Inspire, a project inspired by Camila Batmanghelidjh’s Kids Company, is based at the college and is aiming to use a therapeutic model of social work in its work with young people and their families. It also works with kids who are not in the education system, and has direct contact with around 900 children and many families.

It has been a startlingly fast pace of expansion for a project that only started in 2007, when founder and director Sue Jochim grew tired of her old job in a secondary behavioural support service.

“I heard in a meeting that a 12-year-old’s best chance was to end up in the criminal justice system where there were resources,” Jochim recalls. “I was tied up with more and more bureaucracy and couldn’t always do what was needed for a child and a family. I decided: I’m going to stop talking about how awful everything is and do something about it.”

What Jochim created has become a one-stop shop for tackling complex problems. It encompasses arts, music and drama projects for those with low needs; more intensive psychotherapy for dozens of children; an access point to other services from yoga to parenting classes; and training for teachers in how to better understand and relate to children.

Neurodevelopmental approach

The work of Kids Inspire is underpinned by a neurodevelopmental approach. For example, there is a gardening project to help those in the last year of primary school acclimatise to the surroundings of their new school as part of a transition scheme to ease the move from primary to secondary school – a time that Jochim says brings many emotional and familial difficulties to the surface for a child. A psychotherapist runs the scheme to help children and parents recognise the importance of nurturing.

The transition work alone has contributed to reducing the number of serious cases that Jochim needs to handle in year seven from 30 to just one or two.

As well as working with children, Kids Inspire is aiming to engage parents. Lisa* has four children and has had problems with alcohol, and the children’s father. But she has also struggled to engage with statutory services.

“It’s not like social workers, where it can be quite textbook,” she says. “I had a problem this morning so we sat there working through it. My son needed a bit of counselling, so they helped with that. And I’ve seen them twice a week for the past three months; I’ve never had any kind of support like that before. Over the past five years there just hasn’t been anywhere to turn like that.”

Quick response

At a meeting of primary school headteachers for west Chelmsford there was agreement that Kids Inspire filled gaps that weren’t being met, with therapy provided for children who were identified as needing it in as little as a week.

Emma Dawson, headteacher at Lawford Mead Junior School, says: “Two years ago, one seven-year-old boy spent most of his time under a table. He was like a little ghost in the corner. This week he’s in a residential camp, he’s sung in a choir, took his Sats, and will have level 5 in every subject. And that’s because he’s had a year of counselling.”

Funding shortfall

With council funding covering only 10% of the project’s running costs, Jochim didn’t take a salary for the first year, and even now there are only four full-time and 20 sessional staff. The project instead runs on a combination of volunteers, the open attitude of the schools, and the good contacts that the project’s staff have with everyone from statutory services to Chelmsford Cricket Club. A dedicated student unit will start in October, while Kids Inspire will also start to cater for the north of Chelmsford.

St Peter’s College will be shutting down in the near future but the project has made enough of an impact that it will live on in the area. Lisa says: “I thought my children might be embarrassed in the school, but because Kids Inspire are so friendly throughout the school they don’t feel embarrassed. I was very privileged to have been part of this. I get lots of advice and it’s brilliant.”

*Not her real name

Find out more about the programme

Published under the headline Inspiring Therapy in Essex in Community Care 10 September 2009

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