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It’s good to talk – A night at Layer Marney Tower

“The beauty of the School Navigator project is that these young people are being seen quicker and are being allocated the correct support for their individual situation, resulting in decreased waiting lists and more accurate successful support.” - Elise Ellis, YES School Navigator, 2023.

This year,  The  Tudor Palace of Layer Marney Tower was the backdrop for the Essex Community Foundation annual Spring reception.

Around 100 ECF supporters and fundholders met in the beautifully restored Essex Barn. 

Elise Ellis, one of our YES School Navigators, was asked to speak at the event on behalf of YES. Her speech was thoughtful, moving and evoked the passion by each and every member of the  YES team. 

Elise Ellis at Layer Marney towers.

Read Elise’s full speech below:

Elise Ellis is on Linkedin with the Essex Community Foundation here >>

Read more about the ECF annual Spring reception >>

“Hello everyone. I will be talking predominately about the school navigator project at Youth Enquiry Service, but first a brief bit about myself and YES. I studied Psychology as an undergraduate degree and now am in my final year of a Psychodynamic Counselling master’s degree. YES aims to help young people reach their potential and not be limited by mental illness and circumstances beyond their control. Young people face many barriers when seeking mental health support including long waiting lists and stigma amongst family, friends, and peers. According to the Mental Health Foundations statistics young people are more vulnerable to develop mental illness, with 50% of mental illness being established by age 14 and 75% by age 24.  This highlights how crucial it is to work with people at a younger age so we can help support them and prevent maladaptive coping mechanisms.

I have worked at Youth Enquiry Service for over 18 months now and have seen growth and the crucial impact the charity has on our young people. YES has grown an external presence including a new website, logo and the opportunity for our services to come to the young people. Pre pandemic YES worked with around 2 and a half thousand young people a year whereas between April 22 and March 23 that number had increased to 8 thousand. We are now a recognised charity having recently won ‘charity of the year’ at the Colchester Business awards. YES works to recognise the need, react and resolve, so young people know there is someone out there for them in their darkest moments. Deprivation and suicidal ideation were at an all-time high amongst young people when the School Navigator project began. 

Waiting lists are long and unavoidable across most supporting services based on the correlation between funding and need. This is where the School Navigator role comes in, as a School Navigator we offer young people in Tendring and Colchester low level 1:1 mental health support. Referrals can be made by teachers, safeguarding teams, and the young people themselves. We have found that many young people just need to be heard and have the chance to talk with a qualified, independent, and reliable adult. We see a variety of young people, some need to talk about lower-level situation such as friendship groups or new relationships whereas others need counselling or higher services involved. The beauty of the School Navigator project is that these young people are being seen quicker and are being allocated the correct support for their individual situation, resulting in decreased waiting lists and more accurate successful support.

In the past 18 months I have met with hundreds of young people who without the project would have been on a counselling waiting list, yet I have made under 40 referrals onto counselling or higher support. I found some school staff panic when faced with a child in crisis but due to lack of time and knowledge automatically refer for counselling or involve the crisis team. For example, one teacher approached me in a panic asking if I could speak to a young boy whilst she called the crisis team. He had displayed suicidal ideation in a lesson. I agreed and after 20 minutes of speaking to this boy I learnt he is autistic and change is very difficult for him, his father had just left the family home and he was due to move to a different school campus in a few weeks. This was not a boy who needed to be on suicide watch or have a crisis team come and intervene. This was a boy struggling with change who needed to be supported and heard. I continued to offer weekly School Navigator sessions, giving him a confidential space to talk freely. I organised a tour of his new school, so he knew his route to each class and to his ‘safe’ spaces. I saw remarkable improvement in his confidence and gained similar feedback from his teachers and supporting staff. This is one of many cases that represents how influential this project is and how this young boy could have been put on a waiting list for the wrong support. 

The Charlie Watkins foundation funded the original School Navigator piolet with just me and one other School Navigator. Due to the success and need for the project we have recently been able to secure a funding of £135 thousand enabling us to expand. We are now in 10 schools with a further 7 in progress as the need is so great. We have both counsellors and school navigators in schools creating a wraparound service of early intervention and beyond. Our School Navigators are all qualified counsellors who gain experience and internally progress to counselling positions.

I will leave you with a short case study of a girl I worked with last year. This young girl was referred to me for low mood, anxiety, and stress. She had not been attending school fully for the past six months and had never quite recovered from the influence of the pandemic. Initially it was hard to organise a first meeting due to her absence, but we persevered and eventually met. We spoke of what support I could offer and her daily struggles. We worked together on coping strategies and techniques for anxiety and panic attacks. At the start she would only come in for our sessions and then go home however after multiple School Navigator sessions we planned a gradual return to school, starting out with one lesson after our 1:1, then an afternoon, then 3 afternoons and continued until she was back in education full time. Her parents were very pleased with the support and commended the school and School Navigator project. The young person’s anxiety decreased, and she felt more in control of her panic attacks using our techniques and support. She is now sitting her GCSE’s something she felt incapable of in our first session. This is one of many young people who benefit from the School Navigator project on a weekly basis.

Thank you all for listening.”

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