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Cornwall's mental health unit for children provides support during pandemic

Cornwall's mental health unit for children provides support during pandemic

Published by Sarah Yeoman at 6:44am 31st July 2020.

Cornwall's first mental health unit for young people has been providing support during the Covid-19 pandemic.

While schools across the country were closed to all but vulnerable children and those of key workers during the coronavirus lockdown, education staff at Sowenna in Bodmin continued to provide education services to children and young people receiving specialist medical treatment.

Part of Wave’s Community and Hospital Education Service (CHES), which provides education for children who are unable to attend school for medical reasons, the four members of staff working in Sowenna’s education suite continued to offer personalised timetables, including GCSEs as well as therapeutic and holistic interventions, to up to 12 young people aged  13-18 throughout the lockdown period.

Based across five rooms, including a main education room; a daily living area and wet area which supports cooking and art activities; a music room offering access to both classical and digital music; Head of Education Jayne Brigg, teacher Jonathan King and Higher Level Teaching Assistants Julie Williams and Katherine Keat  provide up to four hours of education each day.  This included a full range of core academic subjects, as well as an enrichment programme including art, sculpture, music, horticulture, cooking and sport.

“We know that education is an essential part of recovery for these young people.

“Our aim is to provide high quality holistic education services which meet the individual needs of the young people receiving treatment at Sowenna.

“The lockdown restrictions imposed as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic have been very difficult for everyone. We have been working closely with the whole multi-disciplinary team at Sowenna and staff from schools and colleges to ensure that we have been able to continue to provide each young person with a creative and innovative personalised programme.” 

Jayne Brigg, Head of Education

Sowenna

“In many ways it has been business as usual in our department.

“Topics over the past few weeks have included the 1960s, learning about the mods vs rockers, immigration, the role of women, lifestyles, food and fashion. ‘Richard the Sculptor’ has also continued to work with pupils, helping even the most anxious to engage in clay work and gain confidence in ‘taking a risk’.

"Pupils have also been making and eating cream teas, trying out their crochet and knitting skills and growing vegetables in the centre’s raised beds and greenhouse. This has given them the opportunity to take part in activities in a more relaxed environment."

Jonathan King, Teacher

Other activities included ‘Have Your Say’, where pupils can voice their opinions about successes (and failures) during the past week, the hotseat where staff answer questions, and weekly ‘beyond debate’ sessions where they are encouraged to discuss contemporary issues such as ‘Zoos are cruel’, ‘all animals should be released into the wild’ and ‘should we remove statues of historically racist figures?” to develop their speaking and listening skills.

Staff and pupils also had access to a minibus for weekly educational visits, with trips including visits to local supermarkets, woodlands and the beach. Pupils also welcomed a visit from a 49 year old tortoise called Nigel, instigating a research project into the history of the tortoise.

As well as providing educational support to pupils up to the age of 16, Jayne and her team have also been working with an increasing number of post 16 pupils who have not been in education for some time.  

As a result they developed a special Post 16 Knowledge options booklet to help pupils follow a personalised plan alongside their planned lessons. As  well as improving their maths and English skills, pupils can choose from a variety of different courses, ranging from financial independence, interview success, building confidence and assertiveness and how to start a business, to psychology, sport, exercise, mental health, care giving and sign language.  There are also options to learn about food safety, music theory, make up artistry and driving theory.

With the gym now up and running and a range of other activities including gardening, crochet and knitting as well as the popular Monday STEM challenge experiments where pupils explore science, technology, engineering and maths through a fun problem solving/challenge approach, Jayne says there has rarely been a quiet moment in the education suite.

The team at Sowenna have also been working with other CHES staff and staff at Torlands (Wave’s specialist medical provision based in Exeter) on a creative writing project. Based around a specially chosen picture, the three Wave sites used a ‘collective thinking/talking/shared writing’ approach to create a section of a story with pupils which was then emailed on to the next academy to add their section .

Sowenna

 

While it may have been ‘business as usual” for the education team at Sowenna, 300 staff at Wave’s other academies were also busy supporting vulnerable children and children of key workers at six educational hubs, as well as delivering education remotely to more than 750 pupils across Cornwall and Devon.  

Following the declaration of the pandemic and the introduction of lockdown restrictions in March, Wave were among the first educational organisations to introduce a distance model of learning and safeguarding so they could continue to offer education and support to pupils.   

Since then families have been receiving phone calls from staff checking they are okay and offering support and guidance, as well as being provided with targeted online tasks and teaching support. Some staff have also sent hand written letters to their pupils, providing them with jokes related to their interests, and even delivering the odd cake to the door step. 

Children worried about the constant news stories have been encouraged to use games, puzzles, and art work to help manage their anxiety. Staff have also encouraged them to do exercise with specially created fitness programmes, and, if possible, to grow things in their gardens

Wave staff have also been providing additional support to families with a history of difficult relationships who have been finding isolation challenging and to those with mental health problems.

“These are obviously very challenging times and it has been fantastic to see how everyone has joined together to do the very best they can to support pupils during the lockdown.

“I am delighted that our education team at Sowenna have been able to continue to provide the same high quality education and support for their pupils and I know the difference this has made to the young people and to their families.”

“I am also very proud of the hard work of staff in our Wave academies. We have received some incredibly moving messages from parents highlighting the difference our support has made, including one describing us a life support machine.”

Wave CEO, Rob Gasson

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