Why pastoral care is so vital

Carolynn Aldis
Carolynn Aldis
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So, I read an article this week about the mental health issues of a number of children in primary school. The problem of not enough funding to provide counsellors for the children was discussed and I was pleased to see that they were trying to find ways to support them.

When I was 7, my Mum had a nervous breakdown after the traumatic experience of a friend’s teenage son being killed in a motorbike accident. Days afterwards, she becoming increasingly erratic, anxious and stressed, refused her medication and ended up being sectioned. When she came back weeks later, she was sleepy and depressed as the medication for bipolar back then dulled everything.

It was around this time I started a new school, which meant getting up at 6 in the morning to catch a train with my Dad and then walk to school with the other children. So, my Mum was poorly, I had a new school and travelled home by train without my Dad. It was the start of a time of fear and insecurity and changed me from a confident, happy child to an anxious, angry one; there was little recognition then, of the cause and effect of difficult situations and how they impact the child’s behaviour.

I began to wet the bed and all the advice at that time was to not drink before bedtime. I had to have a plastic sheet, much to my shame. Nobody bothered to link the bed-wetting with anxiety.

My food issues started around that time …I also began lying as a way to get attention and got into trouble at school. By the time I was leaving secondary school, there were new policies being brought in and pastoral support was higher on the agenda.

My story is nothing special…I am sure many readers have had similar or even more difficult episodes in their lives that have triggered mental health issues. Children can face all sorts of challenges in life…parental separation, illness, substance abuse, bullying or domestic violence.

It’s a fact that the school environment builds resilience and supports a child’s mental wellbeing. Often, a child spends more time weekly with their teacher than with their parents. But, amazing as those teachers are, they are not counsellors…the daily provision of somebody else to talk to and offer support is so important to make sure that what starts out as anxiety doesn’t become a greater mental health issue later on in life. Most secondary schools have this type of pastoral support, and those pupils with the start of a mental health issue can be identified earlier and given extra support outside of school, working with other agencies. Primary schools are less likely to have anything in place due to lack of funding.

The National Association of Head Teachers said that “a fifth of children having a mental health problem before age 11” is of concern. The Government says it has ring-fenced £1.4bn for children’s mental health.

I’ve seen the value of counselling services at a later stage in my life but feel the earlier a child in need can access them, the better.