Our Mentoring Scheme received funding from Mind, a national charity that provides advice and support around mental-health, raising awareness and understanding for mental health problems and the importance of taking care of our mental wellbeing. This funding was used to deliver a ‘Loss and Change’ project, which involved our mentors training 20 Key Stage 2 staff across the West Midlands.
The initial plan was to deliver this through face to face group sessions for children from September onwards. However, the continuing Covid restrictions and following lockdowns meant we were unable to safely visit schools when children were in, and all children restarted remote learning in January. Our team adapted and pivoted our plans to instead train teachers in delivering group sessions for the children who returned to school in March. The training was run remotely so that teachers could be up-skilled in readiness for the return to face to face learning. We are particularly proud of this project’s success because we didn’t compromise our high standard of mentoring and training, but we were still able to maintain the safety of our mentors and school staff.
The pandemic has upturned everyone’s lives, causing a big amount of change for children to process and adjust to. Mind have said in a recent report that “children and young people particularly struggle with the effects of isolation and quarantine”. Staff are now equipped to support the children in their care and have committed to delivering our Loss and Change Mentoring Course to children in their school.
School staff have affirmed the “engaging” and “receptive” nature of the sessions, highlighting the intuitive ways that subjects can be talked about, such as comparing change, in and around ourselves, to the seasons of the year. Games, such as Snakes and Ladders, is another engagement tool, which can open up lots of different avenues for open conversation. Children consider what a snake – what brings them down – or a ladder – what lifts them up – within their own life is, helping them to know who their support network is and visualise the highs and lows of life, and the emotions that come with that.
“It’s always such a joy to see our training being applied in schools – A great poster created by children of Town Junior School to help them understand how to navigate loss emotions as they experience all the changes and uncertainty that has occurred, particularly over the last year. Schools partnership and working hand in hand, in support of young people is such a privilege as we, journey together towards making positive changes in our community. Love that I get to do the thing that makes my heart sing”
– Debbie Clarke, Our Place Support Trainer
Enabling children to identify the different feelings they are experiencing, and have ways of understanding and communicating them, is increasingly essential. The many different challenges that children and young people are faced with, particularly during the pandemic, can’t be underestimated. A school staff member who took part in the training program said that “all the pupils included have expressed and presented with anxieties at home and school.” This training has provided an opportunity, within schools, to reinforce a supportive and healthy dialogue between staff and pupils – as another member of staff has said, “children have opened up about so many unexpected things”.
The children involved in the program have also shared their thoughts on how they found it:
“I know ways now to cope with the changes”, “I have learned how to deal with my grief”, “it’s ok to feel sad”, “emotions come and go”, “things happen that we cannot control”, “I have learnt how to meditate to calm down”, “I have learnt to use breathing to calm me down”, “that we are never alone”.
Our mentors make it clear that they are not problem-solvers, because you can’t solve grief, loss, or change. Our Mentoring Team, as wonderfully shown by this training and the feedback from it, are focussed on empowerment. That means empowering individuals to understand themselves, have control over the challenges in their life, and know that their voice and their emotions are important.