Helping children in dark times

Karen Brandwood, of Trinity Hospice Schools Link
Karen Brandwood, of Trinity Hospice Schools Link
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Bereavement and trauma in a child’s life can lead to skipping school – but a ground-breaking service run by Trinity Hospice is giving teachers extra skills to steer a child through even the most challenging situations.

Schools Link is unique and has been growing steadily, now involving almost 90 primary and secondary schools up and down the coast, from Fleetwood to Lytham.

Hambleton-based Karen Brandwood recently took the helm – a counsellor at the hospice since 2010 and before that, she worked with vulnerable people for Lancashire Constabulary. She is based at Trinity’s Linden Centre, in Bispham.

She said: “It’s a sad fact every year dozens of local children are affected by the death of a parent or sibling; but significant loss can mean other things – a parent sent to prison, adoption or a catastrophic house fire. Some exhibit poor behaviour, some completely withdraw. Although school staff are on the frontline, few have had formal training around how they can intervene.

“But Schools Link gives them specialist skills. When home life feels impossible, children want school to be somewhere they can carry on as normal, away from distraught parents.”

Trinity already had the Cascade counselling service for children and young people, but Schools Link was added when hospice staff realised families in crisis often missed appointments. School was a place close to the family home, easily accessible and full of familiar faces.

In the year to March 2016, the service provided more than 500 children with counselling and support – a big increase on the previous year. A Schools Link worker may be a teacher, teaching assistant or pastoral staff member, who gets ongoing training and support.

Karen said: “The Fylde Coast is diverse in terms of social and economic structure and we work against a background of cuts to services. Seaside towns have transient populations with mental health problems, drug abuse, high suicide rates and child poverty; but tragedy can strike anywhere. Any child from any background can be devastated by loss, but Schools Link provides a steady hand, ensuring teachers are well equipped to help pupils during even the darkest times.

“Children can find it very hard to watch their parents grieving, and death can raise difficult questions they don’t want to ask mum or dad. Teachers are trusted guides who can help them make sense of what’s happening.

“The success of Schools Link is down to the teachers and pastoral care teams. Responding to loss is an important dimension of school life; it’s not something that can be ignored, because the implications can be far-reaching. Evidence shows Schools Link plays a huge role in keeping a pupil in education, when they might otherwise drop out. It could make a huge difference to a child’s future.”