May the 5th should have seen Red Harbour hosting our “The Power of Positive Relationships” event in Glasgow for an audience of senior teachers and other professionals within the children and young people community. Interest from attendees had exceeded expectations, we had a line-up of fascinating and engaged speakers and I was genuinely looking forward to a day of discussion around a topic I feel very strongly does not get the exposure it needs or deserves.
Then Covid-19 hit the UK and everything changed, if not overnight, then certainly at a speed that felt dizzying at the time.
This isn’t a blog bemoaning the impact of this crisis on me or our sector – the “Positive Relationships” event has now been rescheduled for November and the response from attendees and speakers has been overwhelmingly supportive. Instead, I wanted to highlight that the issues we were due to discuss on the 5th of May are of even greater importance during the current crisis and its likely aftermath.
This is the first in a series of blogs which will explore the importance of positive relationships to children and young people through the lens of the Covid-19 crisis and the associated issues such as school closures, lock-down, bereavement and grief.
It may seem a simple statement but without positive relationships in a child’s life, their journey towards realising their potential is far from simple.
Relationships that have been sustained at home throughout this crisis and those formed at the outset of returning to school, whether that be with peers or educators, are going to be the most important legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic for some children. Despite the focus within both mainstream and social media on home-schooling, the positive impacts that these relationships can have will matter more in the longer term than educational attainment whilst learning from home. As I have heard said, we can re-teach maths and literacy but we cannot re-teach mental or emotional well-being.
I see it in my own children. When the atmosphere at home is one of positivity, an optimistic energy emerges. If relationships are strong and positive, children are more open to learning, they achieve more and the child themselves is imbued with an overall confidence.
This environment is as strange to the child as it is for the parents standing in as educators. It is a juggling act for those with jobs that can add to the existing pressures and for those unfortunate enough to have lost their jobs or have reduced incomes, there is a great amount of stress that is difficult to hide from our children. These are unsettling times for all of us. If you can spend one hour a day home learning, rather than 4 hours being frustrated at their lack of interest on a particular subject, this will be far more beneficial for everyone.
Returning to school will be an anxious time for all children. Those children not initially perceived as vulnerable may well be in that position post-lockdown, due to a number of social issues affecting their home environment, income, disability, mental health issues, difficulty accessing treatment services and also those who have lost a close family member or friend.
The stark current reality is there are 45,000 children in Scotland who have multi-agency plans, with some reports suggesting that less than 1% of those children have accessed the new hub arrangements put in place to provide education and care provision (stats courtesy of Children in Scotland). This is a large percentage of children who are not accessing the resources available. There are also bound to be vulnerable children who are not known to the authorities and with a 150% increase in calls to the Domestic Abuse Helpline, it is clear that the current situation is resulting in an escalation in cases of violence in households. Returning to school will be their opportunity to feel safe. It is therefore imperative that schools have plans in place to make the school environment a safe haven for these children.
Returning to school will require a process of integration and this will take time. We cannot rush learning. It is important to take small steps to ensure the children feel connected, safe and secure. Children are likely to require specific attention and some behaviours may become more challenging but it is important that the educational staff around them can plan for this and let the children know they will not be judged and that the teacher can be approached through troubled times.
I was part of a webinar on Trauma Resilience hosted by Lisa Cherry and I asked the question – “With the already stretched CAMHS teams under pressure, is there likely to be any other organisation/service set up to take the very likely higher number of children who will need to access this service post lock-down? Some of these needs may be more urgent than others or will there be an opportunity to train more staff to work in the service?” Mary Meredith, Head of Inclusion at Lincolnshire Council responded with, the environment should be the solution. There will always be a need for the help offered by CAMHS but there is untapped potential in school. There would not be a service large enough and therefore it needs to be the world the children live in that provides the service.
To assist with these steps, one potentially helpful approach could be for teachers to return to school for a short period of time prior to the children to give them the opportunity to reconnect with peers, make initial attempts to identify some of the pupils most likely to require additional support networks, discuss best practice face to face and generally plan to ensure the most supportive environment is created.
In addition to teachers, a phased return for children could have a large positive impact. Expecting children to return to school on a full-time basis for the start of a new term may be an ambitious request. Let children re-connect with their friends and break again before the need for them to fully participate in active learning as a group again.
‘The Power of Positive Relationships’ was due to take place May 5th with keynote speaker Bruce Adamson, The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland. However, due to the Government guidelines, we have rescheduled to Tuesday 3rd November. For further details or to register to attend, please follow this link https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-power-of-positive-relationships-for-young-people-registration-94622860523?aff=ebdssbeac