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Children and Young People’s mental health shared learning event – Blog 2

By Ian Lewis from NHS England:

I am the Local Authority Adviser within the Healthy London Partnership Children and Young People’s Programme. I am a social worker and my professional background is in Children’s Social Care.

I attended the fantastic HLP Shared Learning Event on 3rd July, which brought together professionals from across the Capital to discuss continued improvement in children’s mental health services, and importantly share learning of positive practice from inside and outside London.

We were delighted to hear from Peter Fonagy, the Director of the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences at UCL and the Chief Executive of the Anna Freud Centre, on the latest research on when adverse childhood experiences have traumatic effects.

Peter’s wealth of knowledge meant that there was a huge amount to take in over a short space of time. The need to treat children as individuals and not to define them in the terms of their adverse experiences was a very strong message.

But it was a very powerful reminder that the effect of adverse experiences can be mitigated by the context in which a child is helped to understand what has happened to them. As his presentation set out, it is isolation and the absence of sharing of mental states, that is the hallmark of adversity becoming traumatic. Where children are given the support and environment to process their experiences there remains the opportunity to mitigate the impacts and the traumatic experience.

It is children in the most vulnerable groups who are also most at risk of having that very sense of isolation, both physical and emotional, that may indeed lead to greater trauma. Which makes it all the more pressing that we provide good quality and timely support for them.

The two breakout sessions that I had the pleasure of attending emphasised this further for me.

Looked After Children have been the focus of much of my career and I have been particularly interested in their mental health needs. We heard four presentations. Two were on pilot projects supported by NHS England and Department for Education respectively. We also heard from the NSPCC on the work they are doing on supporting Looked After infants to develop positive attachment experiences. Lastly, we heard from Off The Record on the counselling service they provide to Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers. It’s very positive to see such innovative practice for a uniquely vulnerable and isolated group of children and young people.

The other session that I attended concentrated on the impacts of parental mental ill health. This is often a neglected area of work, so it was really encouraging to hear from projects that are delivering positive practice and offering support to children. We heard from three different projects but there seemed to me to be a common theme in listening to the experiences of children and allowing them to give voice to how it is for them. Again, there were common themes in being alive to potential risks but in giving appropriate support to families to understand the impact on their children and how to manage and mitigate this. The National Childbirth Trust gave a powerful reminder of the need for additional perinatal services to support mothers (and increasingly fathers) with their mental health following birth. It is very positive to see the progress in provision of such services across London.

Overall, I found it a really informative and inspiring event. So positive to see such good work – but always more to do! To find out more about the event please see the presentations which are available here