12 Jun 2024

Anji reflects on the Anna Freud manifesto

In April, Anna Freud released its manifesto on how prevention and early intervention can close the gap in children and young people’s mental health.

The children and young people’s mental health charity is urging the next government to adopt its ‘Thinking Differently’ plan, to shift the emphasis of the mental health care system from urgent, specialist care to prevention and early intervention.     

This comes as the charity believes a dangerous treatment gap has developed between the demand for help and the support available. This gap is leaving children and young people waiting months or even years for vital mental health support.    

This month, we launched our own therapeutic service to compliment the work we do in our children’s homes and for our local authority and education clients. CF Group Therapeutic Lead Anji Wilks responds to the manifesto and why this focus on ‘thinking differently’ should be seen as critical for the health and wellbeing of our young people:

“I’ve worked with children and their families for over twenty years, and reading this powerful, evidence-led call for a new way of thinking when it comes to supporting young people, feels like it could be the trigger for positive change.

“Being a strong believer in the power of relationships and emotional understanding, it may seem odd to hear someone like me calling for a focus on science and data, but the stark truth is that we need this to evidence the problem we face and the clear need for investment in children and young people’s mental health services.

“Professionals working in this sector have a shared goal of supporting young people with positive outcomes for their mental wellbeing, but working effectively together is a huge challenge in the current context.

“Professionals working in schools are dealing with unprecedented behavioural problems, but there is a severe lack in funding to provide bespoke support options for both the children and the professionals trying to respond. This ultimately means that the young people do not get the intervention they need, which can lead to long-term negative impacts, and the professionals become vicariously traumatised.

“We need the science and the data, but we also need to hear from children themselves. Anna Freud calls for young people to have a meaningful say in the approaches offered to them. This sounds simple, but is so often neglected. When professionals are unified and listen to their service users, we can make such a difference. This means we can understand what children are experiencing and create safe, effective, mental health programmes delivered in our schools and communities, with prevention at the core.

“As a psychodynamic psychotherapist, I truly believe we need to provide long-term psychological support systems to ensure our children go out into the world as well-regulated adults who understand how to have healthy relationships. I have experienced the transformational impact this therapy can have on primary and older children/young people in both individual and group form.

“A simple yet effective first step can be providing professionals with regular opportunities to talk about the children’s behaviour they are experiencing and working with. By providing supportive and thoughtful clinical supervision space, delivered by experienced therapists, we provide them with the opportunity to consider what challenging behaviour is actually communicating, which significantly increases resilience among staff. We have to equip those on ‘the frontline’ with the techniques and understanding they need to work through the behaviour they’re seeing, understand what it is a result of, and therefore use the tools they need to protect their own wellbeing.

“This is something we’re embedding here at CF. Our social workers and our education leads are often dealing with challenging behaviours. I therefore developed our CF Group Practice Model to encapsulate the need for healthy relationships across the business. It is a privilege to support our educationalists, social workers, and other partners to explore how to meaningfully engage with our children and young people to better understand how to relate – how to regulate – how to be a part of an ever-changing society in a healthy and effective manner.

“As our business develops and grows I am exploring ways in which I can deliver training to our staff and stakeholders to ensure they receive up to date, key information on creating healthy relationships with children, particularly those out of education or really struggling to regulate their behaviour.

“A second step, is working with young people themselves. In support of Anna Freud’s vital manifesto, I have written adaptable, effective early intervention group materials aimed at increasing emotional literacy and understanding, providing a place for reflection and processing and acknowledging the need for dynamic connection with others. The practice model we work with at CF places the relationship cycle at the centre of our work with children and caregivers. We focus on placing the team around the child, working with a relational approach to achieve the best outcomes.

“Our therapeutic groups are delivered by qualified and experienced therapists who work with small groups of children of any age and are particularly effective with children at risk of school exclusion or ESBA. They are fun, and play-focussed but each session carries a specific message around emotional regulation and understanding our own behaviour.

“Part of Anna Freud’s five point plan focuses on adopting a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing. I couldn’t agree more. If an entire school culture values social, emotional and physical development as highly as academic achievement, we completely change the balance and the focus towards children as individuals, with ever-changing mental health needs. Many schools are already doing wonderful things to prioritise the mental health of their children, but without long-term, sustained resourcing, it will always be difficult for teaching professionals to give this the attention it so richly deserves.

“If we equip our professionals and our children with the tools they need to understand and adapt to the fluid nature and impact of mental health, I honestly believe we will create a community of happier young people with positive futures ahead of them.”

Learn more about the CF Group Practice Model and therapeutic service offering here.

The Anna Freud Manifesto can be viewed here.