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BEST PRACTICE - HELPING HAND FOR CHILDREN

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Over 800 disruptive pupils a year are getting special support from an innovative scheme in Hertfordshire. Kath Burk...
Over 800 disruptive pupils a year are getting special support from an innovative scheme in Hertfordshire. Kath Burke reports

COUNCIL Hertfordshire CC

AWARD LGC Awards 2006

CATEGORY Highly commended, children's services

SPONSOR Prospects

Hertfordshire impressed the judges with its team of schools-based mentors who help disruptive pupils improve their behaviour and assist others struggling with family problems, low self-esteem and bullying. They have found that early intervention at the right level can make a big difference.

Nearly 900 children and young people are helped each year

The pilot service launched in October 2002 as part of the Hertfordshire Building Capacity and Preventative strategies. It now covers 20 secondary schools and 12 primary schools - all of whom volunteered because they were struggling with attendance and special needs issues. Now 885 pupils a year are referred to one of 14 support workers and the workload is quadruple what it was in the first year. A support worker interviews parents, teachers and the pupil to get to the bottom of the problem and work out a fix.

Children, schools and families support workers manager John Armstrong, says regular coaching sessions to last between one and six weeks are then set up. In nearly 40% of cases coaching actually lasts for up to 12 weeks.

He says: 'Problems are becoming more complex and we are getting more difficult work to do.'

The toughest cases include depression and child abuse In one in five cases, the support worker calls in more specialist help, for instance, if the pupil is suffering clinical depression, or is being abused.

Mr Armstrong says: 'Our successes came from our pioneering spirit and the belief that we needed to have early intervention to tackle behavioural and emotional needs that are causing the child to detach themselves from school and home life.

'We piloted the project for a year and it proved to be a roaring success.'

Support workers combine low-level social work with counselling, mentoring and coaching. Mr Armstrong explains that his people are not full-blown social workers because many parents would be scared off by thinking officialdom was about to interfere in their lives.

'We chose workers who are wonderful at engaging with young people. They gather information about who the child is and their history and background. They set targets and give advice to help the pupil cope better and get them back on track.'

Parents notice a big difference in their children's behaviour

Some secondary schools are keen to target younger children to help them deal with the transition from primary school. If help is available early, the pupils settle down better.

Mr Armstrong says: 'Not only does it make a difference to the individual, it helps the class as a whole because when a teacher's got two or three disruptive children the whole class goes down the pan.

'We are helping children who would have been passed on to social services and educational psychologists but because they're not smashing the place up they wouldn't get to the top of the list.'

Schools go halves with the council on the cost of support workers. Workers gather information from parents, teachers and the children on feedback forms to assess the problem and the result, before and after the intervention. These suggest that in 97% of cases the intervention has helped solve problems.

Mr Armstrong says: 'We've had parents say 'I can't believe it; he wants to get out of bed in the morning, for the first time in months'.'

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