The community project I visited was GAMH Young Carers Project. GAMH supports the wellbeing, recovery and equalities of adults (and their carers) affected by mental health issues. The Young Carers Proeject (which sits within GAMH) provides support to children and young people living at home with a parent/family member affected by mental illness (GAMH, 2019).
Group activities are provided in community settings to give children respite from not just the physical but emotional impact of caring for someone with a mental illness. The activities are designed to be fun, interactive, to build confidence and resilience. They encourage peer friendships to help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. The activities focus on promoting; wellbeing, creative and social skills and also attainment.
Sessions have included STEM activity delivered by STEM ambassadors and ‘ReallySmallScience’ who have delivered educational workshops i.e. making ice-cream, lemonade, bouncy balls etc.
The group also took part in a 3-day session with Apple building robots. They learned how to code and program the Sphero robot using the Sphero Edu app for iPad. They were also taught how to program lights, sounds, and animations to tell their own story starring Sphero.
Young carers have also taken part in Coding Labs and visited industrial, engineering facilities. The programmes link into Dynamic Youth Awards and various other certificates. What I learned from the staff and young carers was that young people were encouraged to have a say in the activities and programmes that would benefit them and they did this through regular planning meetings. They also used a coproduction approach. Surprisingly the older young carers were quite keen on employability type programmes i.e. study groups, interview skills, job readiness.
For those who are struggling, the provision of 1-1 support is offered, working in collaboration with the young person, their family, their school or other relevant services involved in the young carers life.
Before I attended the project there was a feeling of apprehension. I was not sure how challenging I would find engaging with the young people, would they find by presence daunting and how would I explain what I was doing there? What was surprising was how relaxed the children and the staff were doing their activity and with my presence. They did not feel intimidated by my presence. It was Halloween and the group activity was carving out pumpkins. I found the session extremely enjoyable, the young people were having fun and they talked away to me happily. To be in a room of children who you know have had many challenges in their young lives, but who are laughing, feel safe and supported is a very valuable and humbling experience.
What I learned from this experience is much broader. Mental health is a community issue. One in four people are affected by mental health issues and there is growing concern about children and young people’s mental health (nhsdirectwales.wales.nhs.uk, 2019) . It is an important issue that needs to be addressed not just by statutory services but within the communities where families and children live. What mental illness does is create other socio-economic inequalities such as unemployment, poverty, discrimination (Healthscotland.scot, 2019). We need to work together to recognize the long term implications of this.
Children and young people affected by adversity, including children whose parent has a mental illness, is a group that is often overlooked. We need to be more conscientious and innovative to ensure that children in our society are not overlooked. Given that majority of our young carers in this project were affected by ACEs, came from the most deprived postcodes in Glasgow and have the potential to be affected by the ‘poverty related attainment gap’. They have achieved a significant amount of learning and personal development to help them improve their life chances and aspirations.
The attributes I feel I have is the passion to work with children and young people, to recognize their strengths so that they can reach their full potential. But I realise the values you bring is just part of the jigsaw, you have to have the right skills and knowledge to be able to respond appropriately to meet the diverse needs of children.
The staff within the Young Carers Project had had a whole range of training such as; Sexual Health & Relationships, Autism Awareness, ASIST, Anti-Bullying, ADHD, Child Protection, Trauma & Adversity, First Aid, Child Sexual Exploitation, Mental Health First Aid and much more.
The ongoing nature of adversity and volatility in the lives of some young people’s requires commitment, skills and expertise. Experiencing this way of working out with the school system allowed me to develop a further understanding of the conditions that need to be created to help children and young people to realise their full potential.
I realised this model compliments the GIRFEC/SNNAARRI approach used in schools- ensuring children feel Safe, healthy, nurtured, active, achieving, responsible, respected and included but in a creative, fun and engaging way.
Overall, this experience opened up my eyes to all the hard work this organisation puts into each of these sessions. The GAMH Young Carers Project aim to find interests of all young people and really listen to their indivual passions. As a future teacher I think it is crucial we listen and take interest to each of our pupils and allow them to explore their passions. This could be doing things such as organising school trips, brininging in volunteers or even allowing pupils to lead tasks. E.g. if a pupil musically talented, they can help lead a session to the other pupils.
GAMH. (n.d.) Young Carers [Online] Available: https://www.gamh.org.uk/project/young-carers/ [Accessed: 20 November] .
Healthscotland.scot. (2019). Overview of mental health and wellbeing. [online] Available at: http://www.healthscotland.scot/health-topics/mental-health-and-wellbeing/overview-of-mental-health-and-wellbeing [Accessed 27 Nov. 2019].
nhsdirectwales.wales.nhs.uk. (2019). Mental health. [online] Available at: https://www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk/encyclopaedia/m/article/mentalhealth [Accessed 26 Nov. 2019].