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Southwark: Making sure all young people get the support they need

Southwark Council launched a free mental wellbeing advice and support service during the first lockdown for children and young people which offered drop-in support and one-to-one services.

Southwark Council launched a free mental wellbeing advice and support service for children and young people aged up to 25 called the Nest.

It is a drop-in service in the heart of the London borough as well as offering outreach support and forms part of the council’s commitment to offer all children with mental health needs support.

‘I was shocked by lack of support’

The Nest had its origins in a joint review of mental health carried out by the council and clinical commissioning group in 2018. The review team heard from young people how they were struggling to get help and had even resorted to self-harming to make their condition appear worse so they could get seen.

“I was shocked by what I heard,” said Councillor Jasmine Ali, the Deputy Leader for the council and Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Education. “Children were not getting the support they needed. Nationally, the NHS had a commitment to increase access, but only so 35 per cent of children in need would get help. I thought we could do better than that – and so we committed to 100 per cent.”

That pledge led the council to start working closely with local young people who helped them design and plan the new service. The social enterprise Groundwork London was appointed to run the service, which opened in May 2020.

The aim was to create a relaxed and informal service which would offer both drop-in support and planned one-to-one or group services for young people with low-level mental health problems, such as anxiety, stress and depression. Counselling, psychological wellbeing practices, talking therapies and peer mentoring are all available via one-to-one sessions, group work and online resources.

As it opened during the first lockdown, the Nest initially had to provide remote consultations only via online and telephone, but gradually in-person support has returned.

By the end of 2021 more than 400 children and young people had been supported by the Nest. Two-thirds of those that received longer-term therapeutic support felt more confident and more than three-quarters reported an increased sense of wellbeing.

Director of Commissioning Genette Laws said:

We wanted to provide early support to people to reduce young people’s needs getting to the point where they needed NHS help.

“Referrals come via a variety of sources – schools, GPs and also self-referral. The most important thing though is that the young person wants to engage with the help on offer. We started off focussing on 11 to 25-year-olds, but we are now supporting younger children too. There is a big emphasis on involving the whole family, particularly for the younger children.

“Referrals we get that need more specialist, clinical input will always be referred on to the NHS service. But what we can do is provide support under supervision from the NHS when they are on a waiting list. That is really important and means children and young people are getting support while they have to wait. We have developed a really good relationship with the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, which runs the NHS service.”

How services have been expanded

Over time the Nest has been able to expand its offer in recognition of the impact the pandemic has had on young people. It has received funding from the Greater London Authority to run a dedicated programme for families from Black African and Caribbean heritage.

It is a whole-family project known as the Strengthening Families service. Parents or carers join the young person for seven two-hours sessions with a big emphasis on avoiding school exclusion and developing stronger family relationships.

Ms Laws said: “What has been really encouraging is the demographics of the young people we are supporting really reflects the make-up of our community – that is something that has not always been the case with the NHS service. I think the staff that have been recruited help as they are representative of the population locally. Young people feel more comfortable, less stigmatised.

“The Strengthening Families programme has helped us build on that. One of the great things about working with a group like Groundwork London is that they can leverage money and grants from elsewhere.”

The work of the Nest has also been expanded thanks to the council approving £200,000 through their Youth New Deal, a package of support and funding for young people. It has allowed the service to start working directly in schools, running wellbeing assemblies, group work and training staff.

From April 2019, £2 million was also made available directly to schools so they can run their own mental wellbeing initiatives, such as poetry workshops and leadership programmes. More than 85 per cent of primary and secondary schools in the borough are involved.

“We know the pandemic has been really difficult for young people and the help we are able to provide will make a huge difference. The feedback we have received so far is that this is a service that is valued by young person, parent and professional alike,” added Ms Laws.

Contact details

Genette Laws, Director of Commissioning, Southwark Council: [email protected]