At least one in 10 children aged between five and 16 suffers from a mental illness*. That works out at three children in every classroom. In addition, 70% of young people who experience a mental health problem do not get the support they need at a sufficiently early age**.
Palace for Life Foundation’s pioneering Team Mates programme is attempting to redress that by offering children in south London extra support to develop their emotional resilience and self-confidence.
Now in its second season, the Premier League-backed early mental health intervention is flourishing, helping nearly 80 children aged seven-11 across 10 schools, and has a waiting list of even more wanting to join.
Healthy Lifestyles Officer at the Foundation and Team Mates lead Chase Hill explained: “The children Team Mates works with are on the verge of mental health challenges but fall short of the threshold to receive more formal support. They are referred to us for things like anger management, disruptive classroom behaviour, or in some cases they have been victims or witnesses of domestic violence.
“By creating a safe environment within the school, we work alongside Teaching Assistants and often let children lead the sessions, encouraging them to share and reflect on their own experiences.”
Charlie*** was referred to the programme after struggling to forge friendships and having a difficult home life, but has grown in confidence and become more open to communicate since being involved.
He said: “Team Mates has helped me to cope with disappointment and to become a better loser in games. I have also learnt when I feel upset to talk about it.”
Team Mates runs in schools for 90 minutes a week across 24 weeks of the school term and helps children to think critically about their behaviour, allowing them to challenge themselves and the way they think.
Inclusion Manager at Bandon Hill Primary School Lindy Sills feels the support Team Mates offers is invaluable: “Team Mates is such a wonderful and important programme at our school. We are lucky to have a number of trained ELSA (Emotional Literacy Support Assistants), however we have so many children on our radar it can be a real struggle to provide them with support.
“Team Mates has taken a number of children who do not meet the threshold for CAMHS (Children & Adolescent Mental Health Service) off timetable, meaning they are missing maths and literacy on a Monday – that is how much we value the programme!”
Learning through play is at the heart of the programme, helping to engage children and make sessions fun and enjoyable. Themes such as communication and listening, empathy, conflict resolution, understanding emotions, friendships and social relationships are key.
Lilly*** found it hard to get along with other children and preferred to spend time alone, quickly losing her temper with her classmates when challenged. Since joining Team Mates she has calmed down in lessons and is better able to express herself.
She said: “For me, Team Mates has helped me to appreciate other people’s opinions and has helped me to relax when I get into arguments in the playground.”
Chase Hill added: “It is extremely rewarding to see the progress children have made through Team Mates. We are now working closely with those who are taking the step up to senior school this summer and supporting them through what can be a very challenging time.
“We are grateful to the Premier League and Crystal Palace shareholder Jeremy Hosking, whose support means the programme is growing and continues to reach even more vulnerable children, hopefully giving them a brighter outlook on life.”
* 2005 Mental Health of Children and Young People in Great Britain: 2004. Office for National Statistics.
** Children’s Society (2008) The Good Childhood Inquiry: health research evidence. London: Children’s Society.
*** Children’s names have been changed to protect their identity