The current SEND legislation includes the identification of Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) among children and young people. The latter aspect is likely to make many teachers uncomfortable, but, to seek to identify social and emotional factors, which MAY indicate a deeper issue is not beyond the teacher ability. Record keeping, discussing individual cases and seeking additional support to need is a part of the teacher remit.
As a child of war damaged parents, one who fought as an army medic, going through Dunkirk and through Italy, picking up the pieces, and another who worked in munitions, but had life dislocated by loss, it is not a real surprise that some bits of my life were less than secure, to a point where some periods have not imprinted a lasting memory. A few highlights remain, but, somehow the brain puts the tougher bits into a “safe place”.
Our first emigration, to Australia, as a family, as £10 Poms, was a delight. As an eight year old, who wouldn’t enjoy the outdoor experience, trees to climb, water holes to swim or fish in; it was Tom Sawyer brought to life, and the sun shone, often relentlessly, during the summer. Barefoot and carefree, a perfect combination. With parents beginning to fall apart, we came “home”, bought a house and mum announced that, in three months, she’d be leaving on October 8th when her summer hotel contract ended. On getting ready for school on 8th, she asked us children to go with her, but fear sent us to school. It was a cruel way to leave, but maybe self-preservation was the reality.
Looking back, I’d say that I possibly had social and emotional issues at a significant level, at different points, but, as there was no outlet for discussion, they were “bottled up”. This was particularly acute during the four years of a very messy separation and divorce, made worse by the impersonal nature of the social care approach in 1964, which offered a binary choice. Dislocation was also caused by the local education system approach to bus passes. As the family house was sold, we moved to my grandmother’s, which was the wrong side of the road to continue at one grammar school, so another change. I can count six schools attended in the space of five years.
Further dislocation came with yet another emigration. This time the grass wasn’t greener, dad didn’t get a job, and I lived my adult life with the blame for returning, as my dad didn’t want me “conscripted for Vietnam”. Truth was that he couldn’t care for two adolescents. Amazing how dislocation often also requires a shifting of personal responsibility. Someone has to be at fault, even the children.
A job, teacher training and then finding my first wife enabled a stability that had been long sought and desired. Then it was just life that threw occasional rocks, eg 15% mortgage rate turning us vegetarian to make ends meet. The big rock was Della getting cancer and the twelve year journey with that.
Suffice it to say that there were ups and downs, not as a couple, but facing uncertainty. Bereavement was not new, but, as life had been torn apart, it cause a new dislocation, this time from my career as a school teacher and headteacher.
Life took an upturn when I met M, and next week we celebrate nine years of being married.
Life has ups and downs. Today’s life seems offer opportunities for bigger highs and therefore equally large lows. Social media and 24 hour news offer opportunities for small issues to be magnified rapidly. “Keeping things in proportion” does not necessarily apply, which means that exchanges can become rapidly hurtful, on all sides. The old adage, that schools argue against, that if “someone hits you, hit them back harder”, can be rapidly amplified and added to by layer upon layer of “hangers on”. Those who, in my school days would have formed the ring around the fight; not brave enough to fight but happy to egg on the participants.
Children today live in a very different world from the one I grew up in, but, as far as I can see from my grandchildren, they still grow up in the same way, finding delight in the same simplicities that I can recall; spotting a butterfly, or some other creature. It is all new for them.
Coping with life’s ups and downs is something that has to be considered. Not all children have parents who take an active involvement and will spend quality time with them and listen, so school sometimes has to undertake that role, as the child may be in a situation that they cannot control, so are in danger of becoming “out of control”. Adult advocacy and mediation may be necessary, internally, or through an arm of social services. Restoring equilibrium is essential, for the child, the school and their family.
Supporting a child through social and emotional upheaval can be challenging for all concerned. Acting in loco parentis, a teacher cannot ignore such issues, or be in breach of professional ethics. Many schools today have built layers of internal support which can be deployed to needs where identified. Recording actions, decisions, interventions and outcomes (RADIO) can build a picture over time that indicates a further level of concern. The RADIO can inform an external expert to understand the baseline for concern, from which to undertake further investigation and possibly determine other issues, which may have a Mental Health issue.
It is rarely a quick fix issue and sometimes, teachers and schools can be guilty of adding to the problem by seeking too rapid a solution, or imposing additional layers of problems. It becomes the equivalent of telling the child to “get a grip” and can be harder to untangle, as emotional reactions take the place of reflection and deflection.
The teacher job is as a spotter and recorder of concerns, sharing these with others, parents, SENCo, SLT, so that consideration of positive action can occur. Teachers are not able to diagnose Mental Health issues, but not to flag concerns could embed social and emotional issues into a deeper problem.
With parental divorce at a high rate, it would seem plausible to assume dislocation.
With higher prevalence of cancer this will have significant impact on broader family life; it does effectively become a family illness, affecting everyone, in different ways.
Shall we try hard to understand what the children are going through? It’s not just SATs and GCSEs, although they are important. Life has a habit of impacting when you least expect it to do so.
From dislocation to relocation can be many steps and take a lot of time. Let’s not make it worse and throw our own rocks.
I make no points on there being a crisis. For each child, dislocation in their lives can be a crisis. Being a teacher means taking humane actions; we hold children safe.
*See Tom Bennett, Debra Kidd and Greg Ashman blogs on Mental Health, via Twitter accounts.