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Talking mental health and SLCN with Place2Be

We spoke with Julia Clements, Principal Educational Psychologist at Place2Be about #ChildrensMentalHealthWeek and how they support children’s speech and language development as well as mental health and well-being.

Hi Julia, what does being a Principal Educational Psychologist at Place2Be entail?

My role is to support the counsellors and school staff who work with children with SEN. We work directly with schools, helping their thinking and planning around the provision for children with mental health needs. This includes many children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). Our focus is to consider the mental health needs of all children.

What’s the prevalence of SLCN among children that you’ve worked with?

They’re overrepresented within the children that access our service. We know that a lot of children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) have mental health needs. Some of the children referred into our service may be presenting challenging behaviour, but from working with our counsellors this can sometimes be as a result of undiagnosed SLCN.

For example, I remember working with 10-year-old, near the end of her time at primary school. She had become quite isolated from her friendship group, and although she had seemed to be spending a lot of time with the other children, she wasn’t really engaged with them and didn’t have any strong friendships, which is unusual for girls that age.

From initial discussions, she felt that a lot of the other children didn’t like her and so had been isolated for some time. She was referred to Place2Be and it was from working with her, we noticed patterns around how she was using her language.

She clearly had difficulty, but because she was able to get on with her work she effectively had flown under the radar. She was eventually diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. We worked with the school to set up the right provision for her, including support from a speech and language therapist (SLT).

How do you typically identify and support children with SLCN?

It’s always really important to take a holistic view of any child’s needs. If a counsellor is referred a child with SLCN or any kind of SEN, then we take the approach to review things like speech and language therapist (SLT) reports, and work with the school and the child’s family to offer  counselling support that is appropriate for the child. Often schools can forget what skills and resources they already have, for example if a child needs help with developing language and/ or social skills, there may already be good clubs and resources in the school that can help with that.

The important thing is to meet the child where they are. People often think that counselling is two people sitting opposite each other in chairs and talking, but that’s often not the approach we take  – we are very child-led and a lot of lour counselling work is play-based.

Tell us about #ChildrenMentalHealthWeek

Children often tell us that it’s quite hard to just ‘be yourself’ as they can fear being judged. A lot of children who speak to us have low self-esteem, and so lack the confidence to just be themselves. This is what has inspired the #BeingOurselves theme for Children’s Mental Health Week 2018.

We want to say that: once you do know yourself (your strengths, qualities and attributes, what makes you different and unique) then in times of difficulty you can use your skills and qualities to overcome and cope with whatever difficulty you’re facing. 

For example you could be good at sport, which is really useful when you’re challenged with mental health issues, it connects you with other people, activity raises low mood and reduces anxiety.

That’s amazing, what message would you have for our ICC readers?

An essential part of working with children (which is worth keeping in mind) is that you can have a really positive impact on a child’s well-being just because you have regular contact with them. If you’re an SLT and see a child on a regular basis, it is a really important relationship that that child will benefit from and can take a lot of strength from. Be aware of that, celebrate it and know that you are offering that, as well as the therapeutic support for what the child needs.

Julia Clements, Principal Educational Psychologist at Place2Be, has worked with children, young people, schools and families in a range of settings for 25 years. She started her professional life as a teacher, before training to be an Educational Psychologist, and has worked in mainstream, special schools and pupils referral units (PRUs). She is passionate about promoting good mental health for all – including the most vulnerable children and young people, such as those who have special educational needs.

Place2Be is the UK’s leading children’s mental health charity providing in-school support and expert training to improve the emotional wellbeing of pupils, families, teachers and school staff.