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Supporting mental health and wellbeing in secondary schools and colleges

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Care-experienced children and young people may experience more problems with their mental health and have lower wellbeing than their non-care-experienced peers. Schools are seen as an important setting for supporting the mental health and wellbeing of all children and young people, but there are few school-based interventions that are specifically designed to support care-experienced students and little is known about how secondary schools and further education (FE) colleges in Wales are meeting this group’s needs. Gillian Hewitt and Sarah MacDonald explain how The Wellbeing in Schools and Colleges (WiSC) Study is aiming to address this gap.

What are the study aims?

Funded by Health and Care Research Wales, the study is exploring the mental health and wellbeing needs of children and young people who have experience of foster care, kinship care, residential care, Special Guardianship Orders or adoption, and how their needs are supported by secondary schools and FE colleges. In particular, the study is focusing on needs and support at the time of transition from secondary school to college.

What are the research methods?

The Wellbeing in Schools and Colleges (WiSC) Study is underway and is using a mixed-methods design, including analysis of data from the School Health Research Network’s biennial school surveys, consultations, and case studies.

A series of consultations were held at the beginning of the study to help the research team understand some of the issues that might come up during the case studies and to inform the questions and topics that we would ask in the case study interviews. Consultations were held with young people, with support from Voices from Care Cymru, adoptive parents and carers, with support from The Fostering Network and the National Adoption Service, and with practitioners from education, social care and health. The consultations were incredibly informative and gave the research team a valuable insight into people’s experiences of giving and receiving mental health and wellbeing support in school and at college.

The young people, for example, talked about the stress of choosing their GCSE options when so much else was happening in their lives and a pressure to grow up too quickly as they approached the end of Year 11. Adoptive parents and carers talked about a need for more awareness of the impact of trauma and described being unaware of their children’s difficulties in college due to colleges’ commitment to foster independence in their students.

The issues discussed in the consultations are currently being explored in more depth in the case studies. The case studies are in four diverse areas of Wales and include secondary schools, FE colleges, social care teams and Child and Adolescent Mental Health teams. Within these settings we are interviewing children and young people, adoptive parents and carers, pastoral and teaching staff, social workers and support workers, and mental health practitioners.

Next steps

We will be spending the next few months completing the case study interviews and analysing the data from them and the consultations. We will then formulate some recommendations for policy-makers and practitioners in education, social care and health and take these draft recommendations back to our original consultation groups and a group of policy-makers to see what they think of them.

We will then move on to the final and most important stage, of disseminating our refined recommendations to schools, colleges, social care teams and mental health teams, and to others with an interest in or responsibility for care-experienced children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

More about the WiSC Study: The Wellbeing in Schools and Colleges (WiSC) Study

This blog was first published by ExChange Wales as part of their On the Journey: Navigating Mental Health conference: