Churches and children's mental health support
An event which showed churches how they can effectively partner with charities and professionals to transform the lives of vulnerable young people in their own communities has taken place
More than 220 people representing 35 churches attended the ‘Understanding This Generation’ gathering, which was organised by the Christian charity Fegans in Tunbridge Wells last month. Fegans provides professional children’s counselling and parent support services across London, the South East and Oxfordshire. The event was also designed to provide churches with practical information on children’s mental health.
In recent years Fegans has seen a sharp rise in demand for its services and the complexity of cases it deals with. This is reflective of the national picture with Public Health England reporting that currently in the UK, three children in every classroom have a mental health problem, yet 75 per cent are not receiving the treatment they need.
CEO Ian Soars said, 'Our event aimed to show how churches can play a key part in responding to the national mental health crisis, which is deeply affecting the lives of children and young people in our communities. Churches are in every town, are well-resourced with willing volunteers, and have great buildings and powerful social assets that the Government can no longer afford.
'Fegans believes there is a real opportunity for churches - with proper clinical guidance and training from professionals - to gather those resources and step into the gap for young people.
'The massive turnout to our event demonstrated that there is a real willingness for churches to step up and do just that. The rising tide of children’s poor mental health can - and should - be pushed back. Early intervention saves lives.'
'It is hard to think of a more valuable issue for the Church to be engaged with right now'
Talks were given by the Rt Revd Simon Burton-Jones (Bishop of Tonbridge, pictured), Lindsay Melluish (family psychotherapist), and the Revd Hugh Nelson (Vicar at Goudhurst and Kilndown Church). Lucy Kedge, ambassador for BEAT (a leading charity supporting people affected by eating disorders) shared her own experiences of dealing with mental health issues with the support of her church.
Bishop Simon said, 'It is hard to think of a more valuable issue for the Church to be engaged with right now. We know something is not right and it appears to be getting worse for both young women and young men, and symptoms are presenting at an earlier age… cuts to budgets for mental illness among children and young people are some of the cruellest to be made.'
Churches could be part of the solution, he said, 'Churches have the capacity to offer care across the generations and to use the sizeable local spaces we have to bless those who have no safe space.'
Ways churches can help
Specific ways in which Fegans says churches can help with early intervention include funding qualified counsellors for vulnerable children in schools in their communities and finding volunteers from within their own congregations to be trained to support families in crisis. This is a model which is working very successfully in Kent, via a project called the Weald Family Hub, led by the Revd Hugh Nelson.
In his talk Hugh shared how he is making the Hub a practical reality. He said, 'The Weald Family Hub is a community response to the challenges of mental ill-health in our villages. We want to connect the community with people, projects and organisations that support young people and their families who are struggling with issues of mental health across the Wealden villages.'
Initial funding for the Hub came from 10 churches and 12 schools in the area, and three children in each of the 12 schools are now benefitting from the counselling provided by Fegans.
The headteacher of one of the schools has reported that the counselling is already making a real difference to a particular student: 'They are more resilient and have more strategies to support themselves. They are also less emotional and better able to think through the situation rationally, to reason and accept responsibility.
'It’s a very positive outcome to see such a change in this pupil and something that may well be a turning point for them for the future. It wouldn't have been possible without the support of The Hub.'
Meanwhile six volunteers from the community have almost completed their training with Fegans to deliver parenting support programmes in the near future.
Lindsay Melluish, Systematic Psychotherapist (pictured), encouraged the audience to start to dream about how they were going to make a difference.
She concluded, 'If we can address the mental health of our children and young people today we can ensure they have the confidence to draw on their gifts, abilities and strengths as they influence, not just their own futures but the futures of their families, communities, and even our nation, in the years that lie ahead.'
This sentiment was reiterated by Ian Soars as he closed the event, with a call to action: 'It is possible to turn the tide back. Go away with a sense of hope. Go away with a personal mission.'
Videos of the talks and interviews with the speakers can all be viewed on https://vimeo.com/user38936283
To find out how your Church could partner with Fegans to provide much-needed professional children’s counselling and parent support services in your community, contact Jo Wild on 01892 538 288 or email firstname.lastname@example.org