Mental health

Practitioner insight: How complex cases can impact our mental health and wellbeing

Practitioner insight: How complex cases can impact our mental health and wellbeing

29 October 2019

Operating within frontline roles, our practitioners work directly with individuals and families experiencing mental health problems and/or multi-complex needs. Following World Mental Health Day, we ask our practitioners to share experiences relating to mental health and wellbeing at work, including the impact of working on intense cases and proven ways to support their own mental health and wellbeing.

There is a strong link between our mental and physical health and just like our physical health, our mental health needs looking after. Research indicates that one in four of us will experience some form of mental ill health in the course of a year. What’s more, MHFA believes mental health lies on a continuum, which like a spectrum, can change overtime depending on early identification, prevention and treatment.

Having delivered a range of specialist programmes that address key barriers to housing security, employment and education, our practitioners understand the importance of providing appropriate support to people experiencing mental ill health as part of their person-centred, holistic approach. However, we often forget that support professionals – be it, social workers, health professionals or support workers – who provide vital support to others, can also be affected by the intensity of the cases they work with.

Multi-complex needs and intense support

Rujia, our dedicated school-based practitioner, explains how the complex nature and intensity of certain cases means that some personal impact is almost inevitable: “In general, I think when working in this field it is difficult not to be impacted by other people’s circumstances because of the compassion we feel for others.”

“Previously, I worked with someone from our drop-in sessions who needed emotional support on an issue I have experienced myself. I felt a lot of empathy for this client and instantly found myself checking whether I am over-identifying with what she is saying and how best I can help her.”

“It’s important to reflect on our feelings and emotions and check where our responses are coming from to ensure our focus is the client. Being aware of our feelings also helps us to recognise the impact clients can have on us as it can trigger emotions in us that we then need to work through.”

Liz, our NLP practitioner echoes this: “In relation to the type of work that we do my first instinct is to support those who need support the most. Even when I feel like my cup is half empty, I find myself still pouring from my cup because I feel like someone else needs it more.”

Whilst drawing from experience and tapping into our positive traits can offer insight when dealing with cases, it’s important to check what impact a client’s situation is having on us, adds Rujia. “It’s very important to be mindful of whether we are over-identifying because that could make us move away from fully recognising what the client needs. We have to remember that everyone is different and therefore may experience things differently and need different things.”

A reflective approachA reflective approach

As a practitioner, Rujia highlights the importance of reflecting on our own feelings and emotions and check where our responses are coming from: “This ensures our focus is the client. Being aware of our feelings is also very important so we can recognise the impact clients have on us, as it can trigger emotions in us that we then need to work through,” she says.

“Sometimes even when I’m not working, I am thinking about the family and what else I need to do to support them! This can become unhealthy because it can become mentally and physically draining and we all need our break away from work and spend some time in our personal lives,” explains Rujia.

Fortunately, this is something Rujia recognised during a de-briefing session with a colleague: “Upon reflection, I was able to identify why I was feeling so tired. I then had to consciously make the effort to put some healthy boundaries in place by agreeing what goals I can work on with the family, as well as sticking to my working hours unless working evenings was planned for a specific reason. The families we work with often have multiple issues and we are working with for a limited time period, so having boundaries helps me work more effectively and not spread myself too thinly.”

“The families we work with often have multiple issues and we are working with for a limited time period, so having boundaries helps me work more effectively and not spread myself too thinly.”

The impact of mental health has huge social and economic costs; studies reveal the total economic cost in England is estimated at £105 billion per year and that 84 percent of UK line managers believe they are responsible for employee wellbeing, but only 24 percent have received relevant training. “It’s that energy and love which is fine but I think if you start to feel like it’s affecting you outside of the workplace it will affect the amount of time you spend at work,” says Liz, “I’ve learnt to lean on some of the support of my manager and team, especially if I feel like I’m having a day where there are a lot of intense cases or I just need some support.”

Mental health in the workplace

When it comes to looking after our mental health in the workplace, Liz and Rujia have found peer supervision particularly helpful. “It’s an opportunity to reflect on my work and the impact of the work on my own well-being and the importance of our own well-being in this field of work. Having a supportive supervisor who understands the impact of working with intense and complex cases is very important, not just for our own wellbeing but the wellbeing of the families we support,” says Rujia.

Reflecting on past cases, Liz adds: “In supervision, we can talk through difficult cases and dissect the different barriers and/or the crisis that individual is experiencing. In that space you kind of offload everything going on at work or personal life.”

“One thing we learnt was the Mental Health Continuum – that our place on the scale is constantly changing and that most of the time there are no absolutes in mental health.”

Mental health in the workplaceSince completing the MHFA training, Tam, Comms Officer at Kineara, believes that she is better equipped to offer a listening ear and support to our team of practitioners, and more aware of what signs to look out for. “I now understand how and why dealing with complex and intense cases can impact the wellbeing of our support practitioners. One of the most important things we learned was the Mental Health Continuum – that our place on the scale is constantly changing and that most of the time there are no absolutes in mental health. Sometimes it’s just taking the time to check in, ask twice and listen.”

The power of mediation

Despite the intense workload, our practitioners are passionate about the work they do. “Once I started seeing work as helping anyone in need which could even be myself, then I started seeing work/life balance as one thing. Supporting people and practicing self-love is part and parcel of who am, so I don’t really see it as I’m leaving work on the coat hanger and going home, I see it as just a part of me,” says Liz.

Crucially, both Rujia and Liz highlight the importance of looking after our own wellbeing to be able to give their best to the people and families they support and be emotionally available for them. “I spend some time over the weekends when I am not working to do something relaxing, this can be something as simple as having a long bath or going out for dinner with a friend,” says Rujia. “This allows me to support people in any capacity in any way I can, even in my community/block or within my family – it doesn’t stop at work! It’s like a way of life – when you see it as a way of life you see beyond the crisis or the issue and you see the person for who they are,” adds Liz.

“Having someone facilitate our thoughts that are there but just need writing down on paper, so it’s seen and heard. Everyone needs encouragement and mediation, nobody can function without the support from another, including us as practitioners!”

Liz adds that practicing self-awareness to inspire the best in herself and others is so important: “I believe everyone is an expert in their own life, they are the only person who has experienced what they are telling you in entirety and full context, so the most important thing is to listen because every situation is a new situation and may require a new way of approaching things. Once they tell you their stories and their journey you realise that anyone could be in that position.”

She adds: “That’s why mediation is so important; having someone facilitate our thoughts that are there but just need writing down on paper, so it’s seen and heard. Everyone needs encouragement and mediation, nobody can function without the support from another, including us as practitioners!”

Find out more about our work. 

Image credit: Mashable/Vicky Leta

Posted by kineara in Community, Latest
How to support your child as they start secondary school

How to support your child as they start secondary school

17 September 2019

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
Practitioner insight: 5 ways to help a young person deal with exam results stress

Practitioner insight: 5 ways to help a young person deal with exam results stress

22 August 2019

Having received their exam results, many students across the country will be experiencing feelings of joy and relief, exceeding their own expectations and looking forward to their next ventures. But for those who didn’t achieve as well, feelings of stress, disappointment and uncertainty will begin to loom over them. 

The evident pressure put on young people during exam season, be it from the school, family or themselves, can often impact greatly on pupil wellbeing in school and out. To this end, many schools have introduced, and are doing exceptional work in the run up to exam season – including mental health and wellbeing provision; from equipping students with effective tools and strategies to cope with exam stress, utilising online resources, and providing professional, specialist support for pupils and teachers alike.

But what can we do on an individual level to support a young person deal with the impact of results day?  Here are our five top tips from parents, young people and our own education support practitioners who each bring a unique perspective.

1. Celebrate the wins

Feelings of stress or disappointment are completely normal during this time, and though it’s important to give them space to come to terms with it all, you can help them remember how far they’ve come and what they’ve achieved in school and out.

Having delivered multiple careers related talks at schools and colleges, Tam, Comms Officer at Kineara, says: ”By talking about extra-curricular activities or achievements outside of school, you will be reminding them that there’s more to life than exams and that there’s no one route to success. It’s important to nurture the idea of celebrating small wins, whatever they may be, to maintain motivation and broaden your aspirations.”

2. Don’t add to the pressure

It’s important not to offer immediate judgement or even solutions, rather give them time to accept their feelings, whatever they are.

“I think the most important message is that no emotion is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s what you do with it that counts,” says former Motivate to Educate (M2E) practitioner Roz. “Letting a child know that we all feel angry, worried or sad sometimes and letting them accept these feelings without judgment is a real gift. It’s so important to support a child in being able to talk about their feelings by making conversations with emotion-words part of daily life.”

3. Help them explore their strengths and individuality

In delivering M2E, one of the key learnings for our practitioners has been in adapting their support approach to cultivate the unique strengths of the individual pupil. This is done through active listening and enabling the young person to make decisions and empower themselves.

“If one tried their best in a particular exam and still didn’t do so well, consider what their strengths are perhaps in a different subject,” says Elle, Head Tutor at EDS Education. “It’s not the end of the world and young people shouldn’t feel pressured to do well in a particular subject which their parents might expect them to. For example, I have a student who is great at maths but not so much in Science. It’s about finding your strengths are and celebrating them.”

Zak, a Youth Panellist at YoungMinds, adds that it’s crucial not to compare students to their peers: “Someone may graduate at 21, but can’t find a job until 25. Someone else may graduate a year or two later – perhaps due to taking a gap year or retaking a year – and then find a job immediately upon graduating. Everyone is on their own journey.”

4. Talk to them about their feelings

Our practitioners use a wide variety of tools in tackling worry and anxiety in pupils, such as the use of bubble wrap, practicing breathing and relaxation techniques, tailor-made emotion cards and daily post-it notes for both the child and parent to express how they are feeling.

M2E practitioner Davinia says: “Art making has been a useful tool for helping children access and express difficult memories. Using materials that allow a child or young person to make mess, should they want to, creates a freedom to access these memories and to begin to make sense of them.”

Roz adds, “Talk about how characters feel in films and books, why and what they could do about it. This way a child or young person will learn not to judge their emotions but to acknowledge and express them usefully.” Whether it’s through art or a different creative outlet, help a young person explore their feelings and let them know you’re there for them.

5. Encourage them to stay positive and motivated

Sometimes it helps to step back from it all and be hopeful about the future, no matter the outcome. This may involve helping them reflect on key learnings or what could have gone better, but more importantly, encouraging them to celebrate and plan some fun activities they can look forward to.

Head tutor at EDS Education, Elle, was pleased to find so many of her students receiving high grades in their exams, however, one student didn’t get the exact grade she wanted. “The advice I would give is not to be disappointed and understand that everything is a learning process. You need to think and reflect on your grades. Ask yourself why did this happen? What could you have done differently to better your grade? Did you plan your revision timetable? Once you’ve answered these kind of questions, you can take your next step in further education.”

What’s more, studies show that positive mindset yields a higher sense of wellbeing and fulfilment, as well as practising self-determination and having a sense of control over one’s life. Director of Kineara, Maria Morgan, says: “There’s nothing stronger than recognising and accepting where you are to move forward.”

Posted by kineara
Motivate to Educate: End of year reflections

Motivate to Educate: End of year reflections

15 August 2019

It’s the end of term and time to showcase another brilliant set of M2Es delivered by our dedicated, school-based practitioners. A big thank you to our partner schools, families and pupils who’ve made it all possible!

Primary pupils in Harrington Hill and Redlands Primary School celebrated after taking part in Motivate to Educate, a 15-week intensive and tailored intervention that aims to build confidence, motivation and wellbeing among pupils.

The pupils at Harrington Hill took part in a certificate ceremony led by Kineara’s school-based practitioner, Davinia, and attended by their parents and carers, whilst pupils at Redlands celebrated with a picnic and family activities delivered by practitioners, Gail and Rujia. They were the latest of over 60 local primary school pupils and their families to take part in M2E, which so far has achieved an 86% increase in emotional wellbeing and confidence among pupils.

Harrington Hill

Harrington Hill Primary in Hackney, East London, has been one of Kineara’s strongest partnerships in the last few years and is a testament to the school’s dedication to care for its pupils and the school community. This year, our partnership has led to us being shortlisted as a finalist at the Education Resource Award 2019.

Having worked with four families in our latest cohort, Davinia said: “The school had various concerns about the pupils, ranging from disruptive behaviour and emotional instability to lack of confidence and issues in the home which inflicted on their studies and wellbeing.”

Davinia utilised a wide variety of tools in tackling worry and anxiety in pupils, such as the use of bubble wrap, tailor-made emotion cards and daily post-it notes for both the child and parent to express how they are feeling. “In this cohort, art making has been a useful tool for helping children access and express difficult memories. Using materials that allow a child to make mess, should they want to, creates a freedom to access these memories and to begin to make sense of them.”

Regarding the support, Harrington Hill have said: “We could not provide the much-needed level of support we do for our whole school community without Kineara’s M2E. Their work places the child completely at the centre and nothing is too much trouble. We can honestly say we’d be lost without the service, as would our pupils and their families.”

Redlands

Redlands Primary in Tower Hamlets, East London, has been another fantastic collaboration between ourselves, the school and the families we’ve worked with. Over the last year we’ve supported 15 pupils and their families, including 10 families who attended our drop-in, three parent workshops, and we’ve also provided therapeutic counselling for three families who needed more in-depth mental health support.

Talib*, one of the pupils from the latest cohort, was referred to M2E after concerns about challenging behaviour at home which was affecting his engagement and progress in school. As a young boy who has autism, the school was keen to provide extra support for Talib and the whole family in understanding autism and developing effective tools and strategies to support his wellbeing.

Through a variety of 1:1, group and parent support sessions, practical and therapeutic exercises, Gail worked with Talib to develop his emotional awareness, wellbeing and understanding of autism, so that he can build on his strengths and be proud of who he is. Living in a small overcrowded flat with another family, Gail also supported Talib’s family in completing a health assessment about their living situation, which led them onto a priority band for a new home. Recently, we found out that the family will be moving into a new 3-bedroom flat – a great achievement which we hope will not only provide space for Talib to grow and express himself freely, but improve the wellbeing of the whole family.

Reflecting on the case Gail said: “What worked extremely well was the support from the school and their drive to keep pushing for Talib and the whole family to succeed. Giving the child space to express how they’re feeling and showing parents different ways of changing their responses and routines at home, can make a real impact in improving wellbeing and enhancing positive relationships.”

Our impact

So far, we’ve delivered a total of 63 M2E programmes with three school partners and we’ve improved emotional wellbeing and confidence in 86% of cases. In addition, we’ve seen a 69% increase in family wellbeing and communication, supported 76 drop-in attendees, and addressed 29 different issues from housing to mental health and wellbeing.

Each intervention is tailored to specific need and, overall, families we work with say their children’s wellbeing, communication, and emotional awareness significantly improve after taking part in the programme. Teachers notice improved behaviour and engagement in the classroom, and our pupils experience real improvements in stress, anxiety, motivation and confidence, which impacts positively on their education.

M2E will continue to be delivered to pupils at Harrington Hill Primary in the new school year, with additional wraparound services that include drop in support for parents and for school staff.

We are currently able to partner with schools in the Greater London area. To learn more about M2E or partner with us, contact: info@kineara.co.uk

Read the M2E press release.

*Note: Names have been changed to protect pupil’s identity.

Posted by kineara in Community, Education, Impact
How self-determination can impact wellbeing

How self-determination can impact wellbeing

25 July 2019

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
Overcoming exam stress: How engaged parents can support pupil wellbeing

Overcoming exam stress: How engaged parents can support pupil wellbeing

27 May 2019

With exam season underway and pressures mounting on pupils and teachers, we explore the role of parents in supporting their child’s wellbeing and academic achievement. 

Whether it’s creating a supportive environment at home, establishing a love for learning, or cultivating a child’s natural talents, one thing remains constant: parents can play a vital role in their child’s educational journey in and out of school.

Research shows that the emphasis on academic attainment in schools and the wider education system is having a negative impact on pupil wellbeing, with 80% of young people saying that exam pressure has significantly impacted on their mental health. Moreover, a recent survey found exam and school-related pressure to be the greatest cause of concern among parents.

But it’s not just pressure from school and the wider challenges that young people face, from social pressure to low self-esteem. We’ve seen how problems at home, breakdown in relationships and/or family pressure, can intensify stress during exam season. Elle Pareshan, Head tutor at EDS Education and mum of two, who works closely with children and their families has witnessed some of these pressures first-hand.

“Parents have such an important role when it comes to supporting their kids with exams. Some parents, however, are unaware of what their kids are learning and how much is really expected of them, but still expect them to do well. So, it’s important for parents to understand what’s involved with exams, what kids have to learn and the increasing pressures pupils are facing.

With key stage 4 maths, for example, students are having to learn some content from A Level modules. In English, students are having to memorise quotes from several different books and use them in their exams. As a parent, it’s important not to place too much pressure or expectation on your kids – this can often have the opposite effect and impact negatively on their grades.” she says.

In some cases even the term ‘exams’ or any mention of exams can risk piling on the pressure: “If schools, especially primary schools, run tests without pupils feeling that it’s the final assessment then it could make a real difference. Exams are essential I think, but if we explored an alternative form of assessment or didn’t use the word ‘SATs’ then we could really help those pupils who feel pressured.”

The link between emotional wellbeing and academic attainment

Further evidence shows how pupil and teacher, and parent and child wellbeing are often closely interlinked, and this is something we’ve seen in the schools we’ve worked in. In our work, we’ve also seen how a good level of emotional wellbeing correlates to higher academic attainment.

Senel had been concerned about her daughter Chelsey’s engagement in school for some time before learning about Kineara’s Motivate to Educate (M2E) programme. “I spoke to the school and found out that she was stressed,” explains Senel, “there were problems going on with girls and all sorts and this was affecting her schoolwork. It got to a stage where enough was enough.”

Soon after, Chelsey began seeing Roz, our M2E practitioner based in Harrington Hill Primary School, who started working through exercises and showing her different communication and relaxation techniques. Roz explains how the programme offered individual and group sessions with her peers at school, but also sessions with her mum and the whole family.

“Roz came to the house a few times which was ideal as it helped us grow closer as a family. When she was here, everyone was getting on with everyone. There was no bickering, no arguments. Chelsey could sit down and express her feelings to Roz and talk about her day at school,” says Senel.

At home, they would play games, watch movies and talk about their feelings, which strengthened relationships within the family and allowed everyone to express themselves freely. Reflecting on a game that used skittles as a starter for talking about how they were feeling, Senel adds: “It was really good as it made Chelsey open up about stuff as well. Every now and again, we play that game ourselves. Chelsey can express the way she feels, and her sister can listen to the way she expresses herself. It’s a fantastic game!”

Senel believes that spending time with her daughter and working closely with practitioner Roz and the school has had a transformative impact on Chelsey, including her grades. “If you see how she was in the beginning. Not that she wouldn’t speak to us, she just found it hard to express herself.” explains Senel. “She used to come home, and she’d slam doors… She wouldn’t interact, she wouldn’t talk about her problems, and she would just make every excuse up not to go to school.

“Now, Chelsey has opened up and learnt how to express herself. The stuff Roz has shown her, she’s like a completely different child. She got high grades in her exams, even the teachers have noticed the change in her, it’s amazing!”

While the school has a duty in creating a supportive environment for pupils, the impact of parents cannot be overlooked. “Parents and teachers who work side by side in the best interest of the kids, can have make a huge difference to their wellbeing and academic attainment – and this creates positive outcomes at home and school. and It’s a win-win situation!” says Elle.

M2E works with pupils aged 4–18 to explore their understanding of education and build on their ambitions. Its success lies in its ability to engage families, teachers and anyone else important to a young person’s learning and aspirations. Find out more about M2E and our education services.

Posted by kineara in Education, Latest
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
How housing affects our health

How housing affects our health

Rujia first visited Kerri in her home last October, when she arranged to meet her family to talk about how she could support Kerri into work. Kerri’s landlord had referred her to Kineara’s intensive employment support programme as she had been out of work since suffering a stroke in 2006. With 3 children and unable to work, she struggled to cover costs for the family.

When Rujia entered the flat, though, it was not Kerri who greeted her first. Instead, the first thing that she noticed was the thick, stale and acrid smell of mould and damp that had filled the air inside the small two bedroom flat.

For several months, mould had been growing on the bathroom wall and had begun creeping through the shared walls with the children’s bedroom. Fungus had started to form in the corners, leaving the air thick and making it difficult to breathe. In the living room, cracks in the walls meant that water streamed down the paint onto the carpet, leaving the whole room cold, damp and unliveable. And yet, living with these conditions was, Kerri believed, the only option.

How our home affects our health

Since Kineara began delivering housing support services, we’ve witnessed housing conditions facing many social and private tenants that were simply unfit for habitation. Damp and mould are common problems in older housing where ventilation is poor, and the issue is particularly prevalent in the private sector where a third of properties do not meet basic health and safety standards. The standard covers more than damp and mould however, and includes issues of warmth and structural safety, infestations, having the right facilities and overcrowding.

For families living in the most deprived neighbourhoods, poor quality housing is taking its toll on both physical and mental health. The National Housing Federation estimates that the health effects of poor housing is costing up to £2 billion per year in treatment. Poor conditions can lead to a host of health concerns, from asthma, wheezing, headaches and respiratory illness caused by damp and mould, to tuberculosis and meningitis which spread far more easily in overcrowded conditions. Hazards, fire and accidents are also more common in poorly built and maintained homes, and are more likely to happen in more deprived neighbourhoods. Poor housing can impact long term health too, increasing the risk of long term illness or disability by 25% during childhood.

Mental health and housing insecurity

It is not just the conditions of a home, however, that can have a negative impact on a person’s health. Housing insecurity, risks of homelessness and evictions, or unaffordable housing costs have all been shown to impact mental health in acute ways, especially when we consider how housing connects to a person or family’s financial stability. In the UK, an additional 3.1 million people are in poverty once housing costs have been paid, with one million of those being in London. In the private rented sector, 18% of tenants are in poverty before housing costs are paid; this figure increases to 38% once housing costs are paid. In part this is because rental prices have risen far more quickly and far higher than wages. In over half on English districts, rents reach a third of local average full time pay; this increased to more than half average full time pay In London. And when you are living in the midst of the stress caused by poverty, it is much more of a challenge to make healthy choices and get access to adequate healthcare. High housing costs can also prevent families from meeting their basic needs, such as energy bills or buying enough and healthy food, which in turn worsens ill health.

Lastly, there is also an important connection between mental health and debt, such as rent arrears. Shelter’s 2017 nationwide survey found that 1 in 5 adults have suffered mental health issues (depression, anxiety, stress, sleeping problems) in the last 5 years due to housing problems, many of whom sought support from local GPs. In this study, the most frequently cited reason for mental ill health was lack of affordability.

Prioritising a healthy home

For Rujia, it was immediately clear that to support Kerri back into to work that was not only suitable for her time and capacity as a mother and build her aspirations, but that the damp and mould in her home were cleaned up as a matter of urgency. Rujia raised the issue with Kerri’s landlord, Southern Housing Group, advocating for repairs to be taken out in the flat. The family have been moved into temporary accommodation while the work takes place. She made sure that Kerri and her children were all registered with the local GP. For Kerri, it was the first step in making sure that her and her family’s health and wellbeing was a priority.

Our housing support

At Kineara, all our support services include housing support. We offer 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. We know that for anyone to lead a happy, healthy life, having a secure home to rest your head and spend time with family and loved ones, it is the most important thing.

To find out more about our housing support, contact us or read more about how we have supported others.

Posted by kineara in Community, Employment, Housing, Latest

Family intervention, health and wellbeing

At the start of Mental Health Week, we look back at an article written by Tower Hamlets Family Intervention practitioner Steve Hackney for Pan European Networks about FIP’s approach to mental health support:

Would you be able to concentrate on reading this article if you had not eaten this morning? What if you also hadn’t eaten last night? Would your ability to focus upon the words on this page be hindered if you were physically unwell? What if you were seriously so? What if you were depressed and your every day blighted by a sense of unrelenting helplessness, hopelessness and crushed self-esteem?

Now picture instead that your task is to find a job after being unemployed for many years, to address your crippling financial debts or to attend a meeting about your threatened tenancy following your son’s antisocial behaviour.What if the day ahead demanded you address all three issues?

For many families supported by the Tower Hamlets Family Intervention Project (FIP) these situations are a painful reality. These families have to address multiple complex and entrenched problems while at the same time suffering from poor physical and psychological health. ‘Addressing the basic biological needs of a family acts as the starting point for our interventions. For those with none, we provide food. For those who cannot pay for their medication, we buy it.’ The trajectories into these problems are multiple and multifaceted, as are the approaches used by FIP to address them. Notably though, the roles of adverse psychological health and physical ailments in the manifestation of such issues are all too often described by families trying to make sense of their circumstances.

Stress, depression and anxiety disorders within our families are commonplace as they try to address the issues facing them. Fortunately, suicidal ideation and attempts are less prevalent but are still worryingly present in a small amount of cases. Such conditions can leave families feeling overwhelmed, helpless, isolated and without a vista or hope. The burden of this can hinder a family’s perceived ability to manage their finances, address their debts and pay their rent. In addition, it can cruelly affect the way they see, and interact with the world and others around them.

Continue reading →

Posted by admin in Community, Latest