Research

A focus group: Life and debt in temporary accommodation

A focus group: Life and debt in temporary accommodation

We hear from people we’ve supported on their experiences of temporary accommodation and what councils and support services can do better.

There are currently over 250,000 people living in temporary accommodation across the UK, a figure which jumped by 6000 in the first three months of the Covid crisis. With a chronic lack of social housing and unaffordable rental prices in the private market, too many people are trapped in temporary accommodation without the means to move on. 

But what is the real experience of living in temporary accommodation? Last month, we were approached by Oak Foundation and Trust for London to take part in research about the lives of people living in temporary accommodation and the kinds of support and advocacy available to them.  

We hosted a focus group with 6 people we’ve supported over the last year in our housing projects, to hear about the challenges they have faced and their view on what could help them and others who are living in temporary accommodation. 

And before the conversation could start, one of the common problems that we’ve supported families with cropped up: could everyone get online for the Zoom call? For Gary, the only way was to go over to a friends house and get Wifi access from there because he’d been unable to top up electricity that week. But it was important to him to join us and share his experience: “I was homeless, the Refugee Council connected me with Council support, they gave me a hotel room but I never saw the case worker, it was all over the phone. I saw a place that was all one room, I signed the contract.” 

In Gary’s case, an error meant the benefit cap wasn’t taken into consideration when he signed the agreement. Unable to work and with little to live on after the rent is paid, day to day life is a struggle. “Now I’m living on £200 for a month. I didn’t know how I’m going to live, I can’t top up electric, it is very complicated for me and very traumatizing.” 

When you’re suffering from mental health, its difficult – its like trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together in the dark.

Our other participants could relate to the stress caused by the mismatch in benefits and high rent prices, even in TA. When Ajay got his temporary accommodation, he set up a  direct debit to cover the utilities and believed his housing benefit would cover the rent. He explains, “I’m going about doing as I should, then 10 months after I was told I was going to be evicted because I hadn’t paid the rent and I’d got into all this debt. I didn’t even know. If it wasn’t for Kineara I don’t know what would happen.” 

For Rick, it took two years to get his housing benefit and was moved twice in that time. The housing he was moved to didn’t feel safe, and he wasn’t sleeping due to  the stress. It was also hard to get the right information at the right time from council services, saying “They often they tell you ‘I’ll get back to you, I have to check.’ Once I travelled in to the office only to be told to write in.”

Angel, who works part time and whose son is a full time student, had similar frustrations: “They told me ‘Don’t worry, housing benefit will cover it, just make an application’. The arrears kept going up and up. Its frustrating. They need to communicate better – its currently very poor.” Another added, “It seems that different Council offices have different systems to manage who is coming in, one team doesn’t speak to the other.” 

So what did the group think could be improved to better support people through and out of temporary accommodation? Many of them described feeling like they weren’t cared about, even feeling like a burden on society. “Then you fall through the cracks and enter world of desperation due to mental relapses, and then you become more of a burden.” 

They also wanted to see council services be considerate to the multiple barriers and hardships that they experience, because when they don’t, it feels like they’re being set up to fail. “And you need that when you’re suffering from mental health, because its difficult – its like trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together in the dark.” 

For others, the most important thing was also the most simple – to have someone by their side, listening to what they were going through and advocating for them through crisis. “Big thanks for Carly, because I [felt] abandoned but Carly started fighting for my case. She’s been helping me get set up, like with Council Tax which I didn’t know about.”  

As we wrapped up our conversation, it was clear that the opportunity to meet and share stories had been important to everyone. “So much of  my experience has been reflected today… its been useful because you feel alone.”

This focus group was hosted on behalf of Oak Foundation and Trust for London’s ongoing research project exploring advocacy and support in temporary accommodation. To find out more about the project, contact leila@leilabaker.net and ugo@trustforlondon.org.uk.

*Names have been changed for privacy purposes

Posted by kineara in Community, Employment, Health and Wellbeing, Housing, Research
Developing our education support post-Covid

Developing our education support post-Covid

We are developing an exciting addition to our education support which will include a package of online support and training for schools, to help school adapt their support services to the post-Covid world. To help us develop this, we want to know about your experience of educational support and online provision at your school.  

Our services for schools include our Motivate to Educate (M2E) programme which provides holistic one-to-one support over 15 weeks to primary and secondary pupils and their familiesas well as embedded wraparound support which aims to improve the wellbeing of everyone at school. You can read more about our services, work, and impact here. 

With eight years’ experience of delivering M2E in schools and seeing the difference that the presence of an independent, specialist support worker can make, we are now exploring ways to take and develop M2E online based on our in-house delivery. 

M2E Online: Given calls for Ofsted to assess the quality of online provision, as well as  the challenges of Covid-19 on schools, M2E online is designed to the individual schools’ bespoke need. For example, a school may want counselling, parent workshops, or other aspects of the traditional M2E service. 

Licensing: Enabling and training schools to deliver M2E in-house with Kineara’s support. 

Your Voice  

During this exploratory phase, we want to know about your experiences of educational support and online provision at your school. Your answers will enable us to better meet the needs and expectations at your school, as well as continue to develop meaningful support for schools, pupils, and families across the country. The survey will take just 5-10 minutes to complete.   

Take the short survey here 

 

Posted by kineara in Education, Research
How to support your child as they start secondary school

How to support your child as they start secondary school

Starting secondary is a significant milestone in a young person’s life – new schools, new friends, new teachers and indeed new challenges altogether. Whether you’re a parent, teacher or practitioner, helping a young person through this transition can be one of the most impactful things you do for them. But how can we support them? Here our practitioners, team and friends share practical ways we can help pupils deal with such challenges.

1. Developing an identity

Fitting in, asserting an identity or gaining peer acceptance becomes even more prominent in a secondary school context. This undeniable reality can often lead to a dip in academic progress or intensify challenging behaviour.

“My challenge at school was a struggle between being a good student and getting the grades everyone (including myself) expected of me and wanting to be independent and assert my identity; who I wanted to be in this world and who my friends were,” says Sandra, Intervention Practitioner at Kineara.

Helping young people to express themselves authentically and take advantage of extracurricular activities is just one way of facilitating healthy social exploration. Sandra adds that it’s also important for parents and teachers to try to understand why someone is behaving the way they are instead of just trying to change it.

“Larger classes make it more difficult to have a closer relationship with students, which is where a service like Motivate to Educate (M2E) is helpful. It offers a listening ear and can help guide a student back on track,” she adds.

2. Bullying and peer pressure

Whether its physical, verbal, social, or online, bullying can take many forms. For parents, identifying any changes in your child’s behaviour, asking questions, and building meaningful relationships with their teachers can all make a difference.

Strengthening relationships between the parent and child, parent and teacher, and teacher and child, is one aim of M2E. “I was lucky that I had a good upbringing with parents who gave me a strong sense of self-worth that made me realise my potential. Without it I may have ended up in more serious trouble that would have been harder to return from,” says Sandra.

During the transition, it can be helpful to try to increase your child’s circle of friends by encouraging them to invite home their friends or participate in group activities. Educating pupils and their parents through assemblies, class discussions and workshops can also help to challenge stigma and raise awareness about the challenges that pupils are facing.

“Larger classes make it more difficult to have a closer relationship with students, which is where a service like Motivate to Educate (M2E) is helpful. It offers a listening ear and can help guide a student back on track.”

Reflecting on her own experience, Mel, Comms Lead at Kineara, highlights the importance of having quality support. “For me the main thing was going from a very small school where everyone knew each other to a school with hundreds of kids in each year; this was a bit intimidating at first! The key thing for me was that I had a close-knit group of friends that formed pretty early; they were my peers who I went to for support and we took each other through the whole secondary journey.”

“For pupils who are feeling shy or lonely, we often involve their peers by bringing them into our sessions to participate in group activities such as cooking and baking, which develops the child’s confidence and broadens their friendship circle,” says Gail, Kineara’s M2E lead.

3. Mental health and wellbeing

With 1 in 10 children and young people experiencing a mental health issue at any one time, it is important that we are clued up on the challenges of dealing with mental health, and how we as parents, teachers and practitioners can support pupils. What’s more, a recent Government Green Paper (2017) stated that appropriately trained teachers and school staff can make a difference in addressing mild to moderate mental health problems such as anxiety and conduct disorder, comparable to those achieved by trained therapists.

In delivering M2E, we’ve found that teachers and school staff can support pupils by  developing their understanding of mental health through relevant training such as MHFA courses, as well as receiving support with their own wellbeing. We have also seen how a school benefits from adopting a joined-up, wraparound ethos that focuses on wellbeing just as much as academic outcomes. As part of the culture, schools could consider activities that have been proven to help pupils manage high levels of stress such as mindfulness, yoga and relaxation/breathing exercises.

The people we work with have multi-entrenched needs, so our support must be intentional, therapeutic, adaptable. You’re not seeing a situation or a person as one-dimensional but seeing them in a holistic frame.”

After taking part in M2E, one pupil who was struggling to manage his temper said about the programme: “I enjoy having better relationships with people in school. I use my breathing techniques when someone is annoying me, and I listen to my relaxation before bed and no tech for one hour which helps my sleep.” In this case we found the main outcomes to be significant improvements in the pupils’ overall stress and behaviour, followed by an improvement in concentration and emotional awareness.

There are a plethora of online resources exploring different areas of mental health and wellbeing, from exam stress, eating disorders to responding to traumatic events. We have also written about the real impact of exam stress and why schools need to  focus on supporting mental health during this difficult time.

4. Hidden or complex challenges

For some, personal, hidden, or external challenges will take a toll on social and academic progress through secondary school, including the impact of educational inequality, a lack of adequate support for SEND pupils, family breakdown, or issues with housing. One way of supporting pupils through such a challenge is looking at the ‘whole-person,’ offering empathy and being emotionally available.

“The people we work with have multi-entrenched needs, so our support has to be intentional, therapeutic, adaptable,” says Maria, “When you’re talking to someone, it helps to see that person as a system – in that system is a person, their needs, background, parentage, education etc. You’re not seeing a situation or a person as one-dimensional but seeing them in a holistic frame.”

Maria explains that not everyone offers holistic support, neither does everyone have to.” As a school, for example, it’s about recognising that there are other organisations that can support with intervention on a holistic level. It’s about partnership,” she says.

Learn more about our education services.

Posted by kineara in Education, Impact, Research
New focus group results reveal more is needed to support vulnerable tenants in the private sector

New focus group results reveal more is needed to support vulnerable tenants in the private sector

Here we report the findings from our recent private landlords’ focus group conducted in July, made up of five landlords with differing experiences and backgrounds.

Participants indicated letting properties across England, from Hackney, Fulham, Wandsworth, Cheshire, Dover/Deal/Sandwich, Cardiff and Barnet.

The challenges faced by landlords varied from helping tenants or dealing with tenant issues, dealing with local authorities to having to pay extra stamp duty on their properties. Interestingly, for the same landlord, helping tenants was also the most rewarding aspect of being a landlord, whilst others enjoyed the financial benefits and the satisfaction of sourcing and refurbishing property for rental.

Reflecting on their relationships with their tenants and the local councils, 80% of participants said councils do not provide adequate support for their tenants, however, one landlord differed, “For me, in my experience of being a landlord in Wales, the council are very interactive with landlords and hold meetings in different boroughs.” As for relationships with tenants, 20% dealt entirely with their tenants from the start, whilst 40% used or continue to use a letting agent to manage the properties.

Speaking on pursuing evictions during the last 12 months, 40% of landlords surveyed said the principle reason was due to rent arrears. One landlord said, “I worked with my tenants but had to send them a section 8 Notice to protect myself. They are still in the property and have now paid back all the arrears. I also delayed a rental increase for another year to help them, even though I was losing money due to inflation!”

Asked what a support service might look like, one landlord said that a wellbeing support service sounded good in theory, but in practice they weren’t sure if it would have prevented the eviction.  Further, 80% of respondents believed that financial support and mediation would potentially prevent evictions, however, the support would have to be tailored to the individual situation.

This reinforces the idea behind the holistic nature of Kineara’s housing support services, which includes advice, guidance and advocacy for all families and individuals we work with on matters of housing, including rent arrears, eviction threats, conditions in the home and more.

The intensive support offers practical, financial, wellbeing and therapeutic support for tenants, as well as strengthening the relationships between tenant and landlord, if needed, and connecting landlords to services that can avoid the costs of eviction while putting resources towards the wellbeing of their tenants.

Find out more about our RSP+ and housing support services.

Posted by kineara in Housing, Research
How self-determination can impact wellbeing

How self-determination can impact wellbeing

From poverty to income inequality, and rising mental health concerns to the housing crisis, many of the core challenges we face today stem from an economic system that maintains inequality and often hits the most vulnerable hardest. However, studies show that feeling engaged and in control of our lives can elevate our wellbeing and development, despite our circumstances.  

Self-determination, which refers to the process by which a person feels in control and empowered over their own life, can significantly improve mental health and wellbeing, according to growing research.

Psychologists posit that self-determination can lead to more positive, sustainable outcomes, including in mental health and emotional wellbeing, resilience, and healthy social and psychological development. In fact, the capacity to make the right decisions for one’s wellbeing and feeling empowered to do so, can result in people leading longer, healthier and happier lives.

Alternatively, feeling a continued lack of self-control and uncertainty in our lives can have far-reaching consequences for our mental health and wellbeing, from the way we respond to and address challenges in our lives, to how we operate in our community and broader society.

At the individual level, people who feel they have lower control over their day-to-day lives are more likely to experience a chronic stress response; their ability to cope suffers and feelings of insecurity about the world often heighten.  This stress response can lead to poorer mental and physical health, which are experienced at a greater rate by disadvantaged and vulnerable communities.

Although the link between poorer health and socio-economic factors such as low income and educational inequality is well established, the ‘perceived’ lack of control on a micro or individual level, can too, lead to feelings of disempowerment, and in turn, poorer wellbeing outcomes. This is often marked by poorer mental health including depression and anxiety, which in turn, influences health damaging choices like smoking or increased alcohol consumption. Studies suggest that those who exercise control over their lives and make decisions in their best interest, even small day-to-day decisions, are more likely to cope better through stressful situations.

The impact of poverty and structural inequalities

A recent report by George Bangham at the Resolution Foundation suggests there’s more to life than economics, but that it still really matters. Crucially, the report identifies the need for safety, security and stability, particularly in housing and employment.

Bangham presents several examples highlighting the need for security in life, including housing tenure being strongly associated with higher wellbeing and that whilst a job may increase wellbeing, the well-being drop from losing a job is bigger than the wellbeing gain from getting into work.

Among its findings the report concludes: “The best prospects for policymakers targeting future increases in national wellbeing lie in raising job quality, raising incomes, particularly at the lower end, and policies to improve security in the housing market.”

Further studies show that poverty– which today may likely include continued low income and in-work poverty levels – has an impact on the brain and its development due to chronic stress causing toxicity. This, in turn, can impact decision making and cause a perceived lack of control over one’s life.

Notably, those who feel they have little control over their circumstances tend to find greater outer rewards in money and grades, while those who feel in control are motivated more by the inner sense of mastery and satisfaction, according to psychologist Richard deCharm. This highlights the causal nexus between poverty and a perceived lack of control, and those with a perceived lack of control finding greater reward in external conditions such as job and housing security or higher income.

Developing self-determination

With the proportion of people experiencing ‘deep poverty’ in London having increased in recent years and many workers still trapped in precarious jobs and insecure housing, we believe developing resilience and self-determination to address and work through the daily challenges is more important than ever.

Whilst there are things that we can’t change immediately like the socioeconomic context in which we live, there are things we can change. By focusing on what we can change including our responses to situations and the decisions we make, we can support our own wellbeing and positively impact those around us.

Having the right support is also key. Studies have demonstrated that having close friends and family has far-reaching benefits for your mental and physical health, whilst social isolation are loneliness lead to a greater risk of poorer mental health and wellbeing. On a broader level, while policy changes are essential, it is also important that vulnerable people have access to the right support. Findings from a landlords’ focus group conducted by Kineara, found that 80% of landlords believe their tenants would benefit from financial support and mediation, and 60% say their local council does not provide, or could provide further adequate support for tenants.

Holistic practice means understanding how these things intersect; using a holistic, strength-based, person-centred support enables Kineara’s practitioners to meet the needs of the individual or family and build on their strengths to maintain positive outcomes. By working 1:1 starting with where people are and working towards goals that individuals and families choose and aspire to achieve themselves, the tailored approach recognises the importance of strengthening the individual, the family unit and the community, whilst also taking their socio-economic situation into consideration.

Director of Kineara, Maria Morgan, adds: “We know that homelessness can affect someone’s mental health, we know that poverty can affect someone’s mental health, we understand that. So, it’s important for us to recognise those things because it can be a barrier for someone moving on, finding a job, it can be a barrier in so many ways. There’s nothing stronger than recognising and accepting where you are to move forward.”

Developing a level of self-determination is vital for self-development. Being able to guide the course of your life, despite the circumstances, takes focus, proactivity, self-confidence and a willingness to work through adversity. Recognising that you and only you have the power to change where you are in life: mentally, emotionally and practically, is a constant pursuit and a powerful tool for change.

Posted by kineara in Community, Latest, Research
The pressures of exam season: Is there more that can be done in schools to tackle this?

The pressures of exam season: Is there more that can be done in schools to tackle this?

14 May 2019

High stakes exams are increasingly causing stress and anxiety in children as young as six, with teachers and parents also feeling the pressure. We believe that a more holistic, joined up support approach is needed in schools, to aid everyone involved in working through this demanding period.

It’s that time of year again.

Growing levels of anxiety, an increased workload for pupils and teachers, and a greater focus on academic attainment over wellbeing in schools, are just some of the reported challenges being faced by pupils and teachers alike.

Exam related stress is, according to a recent survey by the children’s charity Barnado’s, the greatest cause of concern among parents. Moreover, a survey by Girlguiding found 69% of respondents aged 11-21 cited exams as their main cause of stress.

Further evidence shows that the emphasis on exams and academic attainment in schools and the wider education system is having a negative impact on wellbeing, with 80% of young people saying that exam pressure has significantly impacted on their mental health.

The wider challenges that young people face today, from the pressures of a 24-hour digital world to a lack of specialist support and low self-esteem, is also having an impact on emotional wellbeing, in turn affecting the way they approach exams. For some, challenges at home and/or family pressure to do well, can add even further stress during exam season.

Have exam reforms contributed to pupil anxiety? 

In some cases, increasing pressures appear to be surfacing amid the backdrop of government changes to GCSE and A Levels, such as scrapping modules and the majority of coursework, as well as the new 9-1 GCSE grading.

The linear qualifications have reduced stress for pupils because scrapping modules means “fewer stressful periods”, not more, according to Education Secretary, Damian Hinds.

Except the reality for many teachers and school leaders – contrary to Hinds’ claims – is that linear exams have contributed to an even more high-stakes and stressful exam period. To this point, some teachers have argued that stockpiling exam pressure for a few months, especially for SEND students, is not inclusive to the varied needs of children.

The challenges of exam season

Worryingly, reports of pupils crying, vomiting and having nightmares due to exam pressure have even emerged in primary schools. A poll of teachers last year revealed children having nightmares and becoming sick from anxiety after tougher SATs, with many arguing that we need to prepare children for life and not just exams.

Alongside this, education experts, psychotherapists and campaigners have warned that the Government’s plans to introduce baseline assessments for four-year-olds will put undue stress on children, causing “enormous damage” to children’s learning and development. The More Than A Score Coalition have argued, among other things, that it is not necessary to test them at that age – an age of general emotional fragility – and that pupils can often pick up on the stress of adults, including teachers under pressure.

Zak, a member of the Youth Panel at YoungMinds, works closely with children at Sebright Primary School, in Hackney, East London, as a near-peer learning mentor and role model undertaking City Year UK’s Leadership Development Programme. He believes that compulsory testing for 7 and 11-year-olds doesn’t do justice to capturing the capability of his mentees and was personally excited to hear Jeremy Corbyn’s plans to scrap SATs for good, while consulting parents and teachers for an alternative system of assessment and trusting teachers’ overall evaluation of their students in place of a dogmatic, test-driven system.

Reflecting on his experience, he said: “Our school thankfully recognises the holistic needs of children and facilitates our work developing pupils’ wellbeing and sociability, in turn impacting positively in classroom interventions.

But the rigorous culture of testing doesn’t let children be children. Even a more able Year 6 pupil this week shyly confided in me that our daily morning chats and playground games together is solely what she looked forward to everyday during the pressure of SATs preparations.

And while I understand that SATs are used to hold schools to account in league tables, many teachers say that the results don’t tell them anything they didn’t already know about their students’ abilities. Not only that, but one thing is for sure: the life skills, ingenious creativity and unique personality of each and every child I work with could never be relayed though a test score.”

Pupil and teacher wellbeing is closely linked 

Further research shows that teachers are also under constant pressure to perform, often without the resources and support needed to do their job. These challenges include managing a demanding workload, dealing with behavioural problems and meeting targets relating to pupil attainment – all of which are taking a toll on their mental health and wellbeing.  This is backed by last year’s Teacher Wellbeing Index which highlighted a “stress epidemic” and rising mental health issues within the teaching profession – and this is heightened during exam season.

Moreover, pupil and teacher wellbeing can be, and is often closely linked, and this is something we’ve seen in the schools we’ve worked in. Children can often pick up on the stress of adults which affects their own confidence and motivation in school.

Conversely, teachers who are dealing with their own challenges can often feel overstretched in dealing with challenges such as classroom misbehaviour, or pressure to identify mental health issues in pupils, which means early intervention isn’t always possible. To this point, the National Union of Teachers revealed that a staggering 93% of teachers agreed that their stress levels “sometimes impact” on the way they interact with pupils.

We need a whole-school approach to wellbeing  

Whether you’re an advocate of modular or linear assessment, abolishing or retaining SATs, many of us will agree that exams are inherently stressful. It has been argued, however, that exams in some ways provide an ideal opportunity for pupils to develop resilience, learn how to cope with challenge and prepare them for later life. The key issue is “whether students feel supported”, chair of Ofqual, Roger Taylor has claimed.

Roz Head, former Motivate to Educate practitioner, highlighted the importance of helping pupils acknowledge their stress and supporting them in the run-up to exams. “I think the most important message is that no emotion is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s what you do with it that counts. Letting a child know that we all feel worried, angry or sad sometimes and letting them accept these feelings without judgement is a real gift.”

Specifically, Roz had seen the difference it made in supporting and engaging teachers and parents, in understanding the wider context, getting to the ground root of the issue and achieving better outcomes for everyone. What’s more, by giving teachers and parents the space and time to focus on their own wellbeing, she witnessed a positive correlation on the wellbeing of pupils. In the case of Senel and Chelsey, who took part in M2E, we can also see a clear link between wellbeing and higher academic attainment.

Teachers have also seen the impact that joined-up, wraparound support brings to the whole school community, from intensive programmes for pupils, practical and therapeutic guidance for parents to wellbeing care for school staff. Kirstie Barrett, Head of Harrington Hill Primary, said: “Kineara’s success in building trust is very unique. They attend community events regularly, join Parent/Teacher Consultation evenings, and attend meetings between staff and parents when there is a SEND or pastoral need or just a benefit in doing so, so they are visible and approachable to the whole community.”

Whilst the education system ought to give greater prominence to wellbeing in education, schools also have a vital role in creating supportive and inclusive environments where there are opportunities for pupils to overcome challenges, but also to ask for help. And with evidence pointing to both a pupil and teacher mental health crisis, a joined up, whole-school support approach is needed now more than ever.

Find out more about our education services.

Posted by kineara in Community, Education, Latest, Research