A diocesan project called Here to Listen is helping schools and churches work together to offer a listening ear to children struggling with their mental health.
In November, the team behind the project will offer training to church volunteers and all churches are invited to consider signing up.
The training comes after the recent heart-breaking news reports of how 14-year-old Molly Russell struggled with suicidal thoughts for six-months prior to her taking her own life in 2017.
Sadly, the story of her struggle with depression is not uncommon.
Here to Listen came about following a meeting in 2021, attended by Church House staff, at which a school teacher reported that an eight-year-old at her school had been having suicidal thoughts. The diocesan Youth, Children and Families’ Adviser, Jonny Masters was at the meeting and recalls the conversation: “She told me about a little boy in her school, aged eight, who wanted to end his own life. The school contacted CAMS, an organisation that provides support to young people, only to be told that they have a waiting list of at least eight months.”
Jonny says he was left shocked by the level of need. “I thought, ‘we’ve got about 300 churches in our diocese, there’s loads of people in those churches who would care about this, and we’ve got a counselling service. Surely there’s something we can do.’”
He joined forces with Jen McIlveen in the Education Team at Church House and together they created Here to Listen. Initially set up as a pilot in two schools, the result was overwhelmingly positive, with the schools, church volunteers, and children all reporting the scheme to be a success.
Sophie Ellison, Deputy Head Teacher at a pilot primary school in Birkenhead said it had had “the most amazing impact” on the mental health of her students: “After talking one-to-one with a volunteer they return to the classroom with the weight of the world lifted off their shoulders. It’s just amazing; Here to Listen has been invaluable to us.”
The need is not limited to children attending schools in poorer areas and can be found in young people at schools from all backgrounds, including those in afluent areas of the diocese.
Jen McIlveen says when she was initially asking schools to take part, she remembers a particular school in a relatively wealthy area saying: "There is a real need because whilst the children and their families are financially well off, they are time poor.”
A recent report from the Commission on Young Lives, which works to prevent crisis in vulnerable young people, states that just 23% of children referred to services in 2020/21 started treatment within the 4-week waiting target and that local Clinical Commissioning Group areas spend less than 1% of their overall budget on children’s mental health. The report also cites research by Young Minds which reported 26% of young people said that “they had tried to take their own life as a result of having to wait for mental health support.”
If you or your church family feel like you could help fill this gap in provision by offering one or two volunteers who can offer a listening ear in your local school, please do consider signing up for the training session on 07 November at Foxhill.
The day will be facilitated by Peter Mackriell, Head of Counselling in the Diocese of Chester, with input from others including Jen McIlveen, Christian Character and CPD in Schools Officer, and Jonny Masters, Youth, Children and Families’ Adviser.