“It’s no surprise that this dedicated team receive great feedback from the schools in their network.”

Mental health problems are far more common than most of us realise. One in six of us will be affected by a condition such as anxiety or depression in any given week. Mental health problems are often established by the time someone is 18, yet 75% of young people who are experiencing mental health issues aren’t receiving treatment. This is largely because of a lack of available services, and The Children’s Society points out that providing more money for support services would both benefit young people who are experiencing mental health issues, and would be a good investment too.

Here in the Tees area, there’s a charity that’s not simply waiting for miraculous changes in government policy, but actually doing something about the problem. As is the case all over the country, our children and young people experience issues such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, relationship difficulties or bereavement. Of course families try to cope, but it’s not easy.

Schools see the evidence of these issues and help where they can. Teachers and other staff listen, support and advise their pupils and students, but sometimes the challenges are too great and specialist help is needed. Parents and schools can involve the NHS Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services (CYPMHS), still sometimes called CAMHS. Unfortunately these specialised teams are overloaded and under-resourced, so they have long waiting lists and they have to apply strict referral criteria.

This is where The Bungalow Partnership, a charity based in Coulby Newham, can step in. The Bungalow is the base for a team of highly qualified and experienced Play Therapists, Psychotherapists, Counsellors and Family Mentors. They provide a wide range of therapeutic support for children and young people, and work with over forty schools.

As the Bungalow Partnership is a charity, funded mainly by contributions from schools, their counsellors, mentors and therapists are able to work flexibly with children in ways that meet individual needs and interests.

Marie Blythe, The Bungalow Partnership’s Director, told us how they’d helped one little boy who had in her words, “built a wall around himself”.

She explains, “Play and creativity is the language of children and here at The Bungalow Partnership we work hard to ensure that we reach children and support them in a way that feels safe and engaging, and allows them to work through their feelings, experiences and challenges through playful means.  

“One of the ways we do this is by sharing stories that mirror characteristics, experiences or challenges that the child may face.  The therapeutic power of stories can be hugely beneficial for children unable to directly explore their circumstances and feelings and sometimes a whole therapeutic journey seems to focus on a well-chosen story and its meaning to that child.
“Hard to reach, oppositional and challenging are some of the terms used to describe a young boy of nine who was referred to The Bungalow Partnership. A young boy whose early life had not been straightforward, a young boy who hadn’t learnt to trust adults by four years old and whose fight for survival was an internal fight that seemed misplaced to those looking at the good homelife, schooling and social opportunities available to him in his new ‘forever home’.  

“One of the difficulties about not being able to trust others and living in survival mode, is that the world around you seems an unpredictable one and not a world you comfortably inhabit.  Imagine then being a nine-year-old boy who feels that nobody will ever understand his situation and someone sharing with you a story that reminded them of you.

“Week by week the young boy read and re-read the story with his therapist. He thought about all the ways that he protects himself and was helped to explore that these same ways were in fact keeping others from helping him to trust and to share his thoughts and feelings. It helped him to look at survival strategies such as stealing and lying as ways of communicating his fear of not getting or being enough. He learnt to communicate these needs in other ways and soon learnt that taking control and being ‘bossy’ didn’t really make him feel as powerful as he’d thought and what felt better was when someone recognised that you were someone who was fun to be with.  It wasn’t a linear journey, there were tough weeks and there still are, however, Bungalow Partnership sessions introduced him to a safe way to look at himself, to wonder aloud about what may be and to try first in the safety of the playroom and then later at school and home, new ways of being. By working with family and school staff we made them aware of the little changes to look out for and encourage and in time the little changes became bigger changes that were hard to miss!”

Marie emphasises that this is just one example, and every child’s situation is different. Children and young people can feel frightened, confused, angry, aggressive and unable to cope for many different reasons. If schools and families can’t do enough to help, and if CYPMHS is unable to accept a referral and intervene in a reasonable timeframe, then Bungalow Partnership offers another option. They can support children from three years to eighteen years within the Tees Valley area. Their services, including therapy, counselling and training, are also available to school staff, parents, adoption agencies and private self-funded referrals.

The Covid Crisis affected the Bungalow Partnership in two main ways. Firstly, it prevented face to face sessions for counselling, therapy and training. As in many other sectors, staff quickly learned how to run online meetings with Zoom and Teams, and offered some telephone support too. Secondly, it cut the charity’s income both from fundraising and from payments for services but fortunately they were able to use revenue from last year’s successful training programmes  to help sustain services and pay staff over the lockdown.

As the new term started, The Bungalow and the schools in their network resumed their more established ways of helping children and young people – but with social distancing and Covid safe measures in place. Thanks to donations of PPE from Catalyst Stockton and East Durham College Technical Academy, staff have been able to follow the protocols of each school they support. When circumstances make it impossible to work safely, they ensure continuity of support via virtual methods, as they did throughout the lockdown.

It’s no surprise that this dedicated team receive great feedback from the schools in their network.

Now more than ever we can see how charities like The Bungalow Partnership provide a unique Tees answer to an issue that challenges children, young people, families and schools all over the country.

If you’re a parent and your child’s progress at school, behaviour or general well-being is affected by mental health issues, remember that this is more common than we might think. Be aware that acting sooner rather than later improves your child’s chances of resolving their difficulties, and developing into a healthy and well-adjusted adult. Talk to your child’s school, ask them what their own staff can do to help, and ask them if they work with the Bungalow Partnership. If the problems are already serious, don’t forget about CYPMHS.

If you’re a member of staff in a Tees Valley school, do you know what can be done to support pupils or students who are affected by issues such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, relationship difficulties or bereavement. Do you have colleagues in-house with specialist mental health training? Do you know the CYPMHS referral systems? Is your school already in the Bungalow Partnership’s network? Or do you have links with other mental health providers? 







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