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Changing Lives through Horses - Q&A with Catherine Roche from Place2Be

17 Jan 2018

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In the February edition of British Horse we caught up with Catherine Roche, Chief Executive of children’s mental health charity, Place2Be. You can read the full extract of the article here: 

Can you explain to our readers who Place2Be are and what you do?

Catherine Roche Place2Be

Place2Be is a children’s mental health charity. We provide mental health services in schools - directly supporting pupils and families, helping children to cope with all sorts of issues including bereavement, bullying, domestic violence, family breakdown, drug and alcohol misuse, neglect and trauma.  We also provide input and support for school staff, helping school leaders to establish a ‘whole school approach’ to mental health as well as specialised training for teachers and mental health professionals.  

Our vision is that children in all schools should have access to high quality mental health support early on. All of our training is based on our experience, developed and refined over the 23 years since we were founded. Today Place2Be teams are based in almost 300 schools around the country supporting 116,000 children and young people and last year 3000 people accessed Place2Be training.  

Why did you want to get involved in Changing Lives through Horses?  

I was so delighted when Lynn Petersen, Chief Executive at the British Horse Society approached us 2 years ago to see if we could support Changing Lives through Horses. Lynn’s enthusiasm, passion and clear vision for the programme was incredibly inspiring and it felt like such a good fit. BHS were looking for an expert in mental health who could help to build an understanding of children and young people’s mental health – helping participants to see what may lie behind a young person’s behaviour and cause disengagement, such as with the school system. And that’s exactly what we do at Place2Be, day-in-day-out.

So the pilot was born. Place2Be worked with Centre Managers and Regional Managers at both local and national levels to help develop their awareness and understanding of children's mental health and child/adolescent development. Through this training, we have helped to inform the delivery of the programme so that BHS facilitators can better engage with the young people and support their emotional wellbeing. We have been so thrilled to be involved and delighted to see the success of the programme in its first year.

On a personal level I know the magic that can happen when you connect with a horse and the freedom and space it can provide. It also requires consistency and brings a sense of responsibility and commitment. We have previously connected a number of our partner schools with local police stables and the feedback, enthusiasm and difference it made for the children was phenomenal, opening minds to a whole new world and perspective.

We are very proud to share that Changing Lives through Horses has had a very successful first year, can you share with us some of the successes that Place2Be has had working with young people?

I recently heard about a 7-year-old boy called Joe. When he was stressed, he would often run out of class, hide under a table, shout at people and throw things. Joe was referred to Place2Be by his teacher but initially he was easily distracted and would dash out in the middle of sessions. With time and patience, he began to feel safe with his counsellor. As his confidence grew, he began to talk more openly about his feelings. While he was close to his family, his parents had separated and he didn’t see his dad any more, and his mum was often occupied with his younger brother. Joe’s uncle – a big part of his life – was in and out of prison. The consistency, time and space for Joe at his weekly Place2Be sessions really helped. He is now able to engage with activities and gets on better with his teacher. He has made friends, spoken about them in sessions and even introduced them to Place2Be.

We are really proud to be supporting more children and young people than ever before (over 40,000 booked a lunchtime appointment with us last year) but it’s stories like Joe’s that really bring home the importance of our work for me. I’m incredibly proud to work for an organisation that genuinely transforms the future life chances of children and young people. 

Other big highlights from the year include the Magnolia Cup at Glorious Goodwood which raised an incredible £178,000 towards Place2Be’s work with children and young people. We were even able to give one 11-year-old budding fashion designer the opportunity to design a real horseracing silk which was worn by one of the jockeys – a dream come true for her!

We were also part of the first ever ‘mental health marathon’ which saw thousands of runners in London don blue headbands to raise awareness of mental health – cheered on by Their Royal Highnesses, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry who started the Heads Together campaign. It was an amazing experience and we were thrilled to be part of it.

Government is also paying attention – we were pleased to see the recent Green Paper ‘Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision’ focuses on supporting children early, before problems grow and become more complex. In 2018, we’ll be pushing to ensure that the proposals focus on building on good practice that already exists.

Beyond our work in schools, we’re also very proud to be contributing to development of the children's mental health workforce. Our training and qualifications help those working with children and young people gain new skills and understanding – including through our partnership with Changing Lives through Horses. In the last year alone, Place2Be provided training for over 1,000 child counsellors at various stages of their career, to help ensure that we can provide vital mental health support to children and young people.

Can you tell us what you’ve got planned for Children’s Mental Health Week and how can we get involved?

This Children’s Mental Health Week (5-11 Feb), we’re encouraging children, young people and adults to celebrate their uniqueness and want as many people as possible to get involved and celebrate our theme - ‘Being Ourselves’. We have developed a pack of resources for schools and youth groups so that they can get involved, including assembly guides, group activities, top tips, fundraising ideas and much more. Please do share with your local schools.  Individuals can also show their support by fundraising, spreading the word on social media or by using or sharing our advice for parents and carers. 

Take a look at www.childrensmentalhealthweek.org.uk for ideas, resources and to find out more about the week.

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