Children’s wellbeing at the forefront of everything
Angie Waterson is Welfare Officer at Trumpington Park Primary School, the first CPET school to have this dedicated role. Here we talk to Angie about her passion for the job, the underpinning principles, and her future plans.
How did the Welfare Officer role come about?
“I started out as a parent helper at Histon and Impington Junior School and then moved into a teaching assistant role and undertook my Higher Level Teaching Assistant qualification 11 years ago. Part of my role was to work with SEND children and behaviour children on a one-to-one basis, and I ran numerous intervention groups. When Mel Shute was assigned to Histon, I became responsible for extra support in her class, and I undertook CAMHS mental health training too. As a result, my intervention became more nurturing in approach and more holistic. It was underpinned by the principle that we needed to get things in place, and get in much sooner. When Mel became Head at Trumpington I was asked to help out here initially for a short time – and it has now been three years.”
Tell us about the role, and what this involves.
“The role itself is still in its infancy but, in an area of so much need, essentially it is about re-assuring children that coming to school is safe, building their confidence and relationships with their families. We start and end with a focus on their mental health and wellbeing, and putting in place steps to support both children’s academic abilities and abilities to deal with things beyond the classroom. My day begins and finishes with being a welcoming presence on the school gate. Parents appreciate the opportunity to talk to me about how their children are feeling and to understand whether there is anything I need to pass on to their teacher, or something I need to pick up myself by signposting to additional support or inviting the parent in to talk through concerns. I sympathise, empathise and try to diffuse anything before they go into school and, that way, we make sure everyone in our community feels valued and supported. This has paid dividends: attendance has significantly improved, and because the relationships are already there this helped during lockdown calls to vulnerable families.”
What types of interventions do you encourage?
“Before lockdown, I introduced a breakfast club (and hope to reinstate this once we are able to) which was aimed at low-income families, those who needed support for a limited time or some nurture time, to give children a good, healthy breakfast and a calm start to the day. We have also set up and ran a series of lunchtime groups e.g. art, lego and library, for certain children to build friendships, confidence and self-esteem. These are the ideal way for them to meet other children and importantly talk to each other, as well as modelling behaviour. I have a special designated room with games and distractions which provides a quiet, reflective space that enables me to be on call for any child that may need extra support away from class too. This helps to diffuse situations, and use time in a more positive way. We do not want children to suppress their feelings, we want to really understand them. In a world of mental health issues our approach is to teach children to be emotionally literate, and about resilience and how to cope with challenge.”
How would you like the role to develop?
“It actually runs alongside my other role as Designated Safeguarding Lead – keeping children safe and building relationships – so that is an effective synergy. We are now looking at early help with families and creating positive impact. Behaviour is about communication: understanding what children are trying to say, not judging their mental state, and having an arsenal of things to help e.g. Drawing and Talking, Sandplay. Therapeutic play – child-led/child-centred play – are non-invasive ways to help children to work through their challenges and we want to get in early so things do not escalate. Children have many different needs, and our approach is to let them be heard and show them they are valued and provide the support they need by building their resilience to cope and move forward. Again, we do not want to suppress feelings, and want to get the message across that how they feel is OK. I think there should be someone like me in every school, and it was interesting to read how the government is working on a funding allocation in order to train a Designated Mental Health Lead in every educational setting in England by 2025.”
In summary, just how important is the focus on mental health and wellbeing?
“Children’s wellbeing should be at the forefront of everything. It comes way before learning, and ultimately we need to look at mental health in exactly the same way as we do physical health. Children present with an array of problems and so much earlier. By building resilience, and giving them tools they need to live a fun and productive life, we can nurture them. The impact of this is seen in the development of children with behaviour problems, their attendance and academic achievement/ progress journey.”