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A new programme is launched in Cornwall to improve the mental health of children

One in four of us will have a mental health problem at some time during their life, but work is underway in Cornwall to tackle the problem. Cornwall has become the first area of the UK to implement a new programme called Trauma Informed Schools. 

The initiative, set up by The National Lottery Fund, is comprised of education, health and voluntary sector agencies to develop resilience and mental wellbeing in young people aged 10-16, is led by Cornwall Council’s Headstart Kernow,

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So far, 230 Cornish schools and 50 community organisations have accessed training. 460 school staff, including head teachers, teachers and teaching assistants have successfully completed the course. In addition, over 1000 people have attended wider staff training or senior lead training.

Not-for-profit organisation Trauma Informed Schools UK has been commissioned to deliver its ground-breaking trauma-informed training programme county wide – the first of its kind in England, offering a blueprint for the rest of the country and paving the way for mental health change in schools.

Nearly £1million of funding has been allocated to mental health and trauma training for staff in every primary and secondary school (and many community organisations and services) across Cornwall.

So far, 230 Cornish schools and 50 community organisations have accessed training. 460 school staff, including head teachers, teachers and teaching assistants have successfully completed the Diploma in Trauma and Mental Health Informed Schools and Communities delivered by TISUK.  Over 1000 staff have attended wider staff training or senior lead training.

Cornwall is the first county in England to apply major research on the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on life and learning in a practical manner, with training across all schools. These experiences range from suffering verbal, mental, sexual and physical abuse, to being raised in a household where domestic violence, parental separation, mental health issues or drug or alcohol abuse is present.

A wealth of research (including Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study in June 2019) with results replicated in many countries shows that children who experience stressful or traumatic childhoods are more likely to develop health-harming and/or anti-social behaviours and perform poorly in school. The more ACEs,the higher the risk of poor mental and physical health, learning difficulties and early death.

However, research also suggests that a positive relationship with one trusted and empathetic adult, such as a teacher or youth worker, can mitigate the impact of ACEs and interrupt the trajectory from painful childhood experiences to mental and physical health, learning difficulties and self-harming behaviours. This is highlighted in the Government’s Green Paper (December 2017) Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision, which states that, “There is evidence that appropriately-trained and supported staff such as teachers, school nurses, and teaching assistants can achieve results comparable to those achieved by trained therapists in delivering a number of interventions addressing mild to moderate mental health problems”  The training complements a range of support available to all children to promote good emotional and mental wellbeing.

The mental health and trauma training programme supports schools in creating a safe and protective environment by training school staff to become ‘mental health-informed practitioners’. The 10-day Diploma, which runs over two terms, focuses on the science and psychology behind childhood trauma and ACEs and the impact on behaviour and learning. Strategies for interacting with children in ways that mitigate trauma and help them feel psychologically safe are taught as well as the use of an online wellbeing assessment tool, Motional.  This screens for childhood adversity, and can monitor changes in social skills and all areas of functioning (emotional and cognitive intelligence), as well as providing professionals with examples of practical interventions to support mental health.

Schools are also assisted in reviewing their behaviour policies, with an emphasis on ‘relationship and behaviour-based’ policies, which focus on fostering positive pupil-teacher interactions. At the end of the training, schools that can evidence positive change for both staff and pupil wellbeing are awarded with a ‘Mental Healthy School’ status.

The approach in Cornwall is cross-sector – with training extending beyond school staff to include local police officers, youth intervention officers and community and volunteer staff.  The mental health intervention is much needed at a time when the NSPCC reported a record number of 60,000 calls to counselling service Childline across the UK – from suicidal children in the same period, with mental health problems now the most common reason to contact the helpline.  Of those that reach out to the service, only three in four can be supported due to limited resourcing.

Young people can wait up to a decade for effective treatment (Centre for Mental Health, Missed Opportunities report, 2016) – opportunities for intervention are often missed and are only addressed when children reach a crisis point, and become suicidal, aggressive or drop out of school. 

The trauma and mental health training programme will run until June 2021. HeadStart Kernow is led by Cornwall Council and funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. Training is being delivered by not-for-profit organisations Trauma Informed Schools UK and The Centre for Child Mental Health.  

Launched in 2016, HeadStart is a five-year, £58.7 million National Lottery funded programme set up by The National Lottery Community Fund. It aims to explore and test new ways to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people aged 10 to 16 and prevents serious mental health issues from developing. To do this, six local authority-led HeadStart partnerships are working with local young people, schools, families, charities, community and public services to design and try out new interventions that will make a difference to young people’s mental health, wellbeing and resilience