I was reading A S Neill even before I went to university aged 17. I think of him often now - many decades later - when the kids we work with are deemed 'hyperactive' or 'unable to concentrate'…. You know the language.
Who is 'we' and who are these kids? Well, ten years ago I set up a charity in my little bit of east London, because I knew that there were a lot of troubled children who were getting no emotional help at all. Waiting lists were long at Child and Family Consultation, and schools could not afford enough counsellors.
As a 'left wing' psychotherapist I am not happy about the high fees charged and the lack of access by people without money. I'm also not happy about the number of suitable people who want to do this kind of work but who could never afford to enrol on a course, or who would not be accepted (e.g. if they have no degree.)
So Carefree Kids charity was set up in Waltham Forest borough. We recruit 'community volunteers' and train them to do long-term therapeutic play in one-to-one, weekly 45-minute sessions in school time. They come to weekly supervision and some of them stay for years. We also take therapy students on placement. Some art and drama therapy is offered too. The schools are charged £7 a session.
If the school has no room, we take our mobile play therapy bus.
We also support parents and carers if they want our help.
It can be hard to work within schools. People walk in, despite a 'Please Don't Disturb' notice on the door. Staff don't always take a therapeutic approach. The rooms we use might suddenly have to be used for other things - and so on. But school is the only place where we have more or less guaranteed access to the kids.
For some years we worked in Gallions Primary School in Beckton, Newham. This is a state school in a tough part of east London which is child-centred and arts-based. The talented staff have found ways to teach the national curriculum through dance, drama and art and every child goes to a weekly Philosophy for Children lesson. They all learn the violin or cello and perform in various shows several times a year. The teachers all seem kind, happy and on the kids' side. It can be done folks!
More recently we visited Ian Mikardo High School in Tower Hamlets, a special school with 24 boys of secondary school age who could not fit into mainstream due to behaviour. This again is an exceptional place, run imaginatively and sensitively. We hope to trial one of our courses for teenagers about good parenting there.
It is fun being a radical working in a conventional system. Our charity is small and entirely independent. We can try out new ideas with a minimum of bureaucracy. Our ten weekly training/supervision groups provide volunteers with a trusted circle where they can offload, learn and support each other. There is a very deep level of discussion.
And feedback from kids, parents, teachers is unsolicited and positive. Children have said things to volunteers like: 'You are the only one who listens to me' and 'Where were you in year two? My life started when you came!'
We organise three study days a year on Saturdays. Anyone is invited for free. If you would like to come, want to learn more, want help to set up your own scheme or even want to join us, we are at:
- 0208 558 7799
- Postal address: 15 Matcham Road, London E11 3LE.
and we are Netty, Sophia and Ros.
There are other similar charities in other parts of the UK. The largest are probably Kids Company, in London and Bristol ( www.kidsco.org.uk ) and Place 2Be, which operates mainly in London, the Midlands, north-east England and south Scotland. ( www.place2be.org.uk ).