Our Time delivered a highly valued one day workshop to help professionals from health, social care, education and the charity sector. Over 30 people from across the UK attended the seminar which focused on helping people who work with vulnerable children to identify children of parents with a mental illness (COPMI) and to gain skills in talking to the family so that the children can be supported wherever they are.
Presenters included Jessica Streeting, who works in the NHS in London supporting looked-after children, Kirsty Tahta-Wraith, who herself is a child of a parent with a mental illness, and Dympna Cunnane who leads our charity and is a psychologist by training. The workshop focused on areas such as how to identify and engage with children and young people affected by parental mental illness.
Dympna described the group and explained why they are hidden and vulnerable and she showed how small, low-cost interventions could make a huge difference to the lives of these children and young people. She described in detail the two ways that we can support children of parents with a mental illness, through family workshops (KidsTime Workshops) and in school, through the ‘Who Cares? programme’ which offers training and resources to schools to enable them to address the issue of parental mental illness and its impact on the students’ ability to progress academically. She emphasised the importance of a universal approach rather than targeting certain children or families.
Kirsty shared her own experience of being on the receiving end of mental health and social care professionals and she offered tips on how to engage with the children, respecting their experience and expertise, rather than seeing them as a difficulty to overcome.
She advised the following to professionals:
- Don’t avoid talking about young people’s responsibilities
- Don’t worry about ‘blaming’ parents
- The priority is to provide young people with a space where they can think about and develop a narrative of their experience
- Trying is better than not doing anything
Jessica encouraged everyone to think about the possibility that the child/young person they are dealing with might be struggling in this situation, as are very many looked-after children. She shared her experience of using the Our Time and our KidsTime Workshop approach, bearing in mind the three principles of our work:
- Letting the child know that they are not alone by going to the Our Time website and showing them the case studies and short films, allowing them to reflect on the fact that other families are in the same situation.
- Offering a good explanation by showing some of the films we have on our website that provide clear guidance and support for young people.
- Being a trusted, neutral adult that the child can rely on when they need help or support. Someone who will listen to them, validate their experience and help them to build their resilience in the face of their difficult family situation.