First Annual Conference: How Can We Really Work Together to Improve Mental Health and Educational Outcomes? Prioritising Parent Understanding and Competence


The seeds of this conference started a long time ago from a sense of confusion and overwhelm experienced in response to the ever rising tide of need I have seen in day to day practice in health and education settings over my career of the last 20 years.  How do you turn frustration into something constructive, how do you turn this sense of overwhelm and hopelessness into something that feels worth doing?  

The final trigger for this particular conference taking shape was a sense of exasperation about the NHS Future in Mind and 'transformation' process. Then the exasperation became an idea.  So why not run a conference sharing what my colleagues and I  really think?   And we did it!  The I Matter Project in partnership with the Centre for Adoption Support (CFAS) ran a half day conference in Lancaster on the 8th October 2015.  It took us 2 1/2 weeks from idea to reality with lots of really good conversations, and a final diverse turn out of colleagues from education and health from both North Lancs and South Lakes for the event itself.   

I felt we were on track when just prior to the conference when I was sent a list by a local teacher describing the Y5/Y6 pupils in her local lancashire apparently privileged school.  Of 34 pupils only 6 had uncomplicated home circumstances.   The rest were facing a catalogue of challenges in their home lives involving child protection investigations, parent alcohol, and drug abuse, complex divorce cases.  ​

​I guess this confirmed in black and white my concern about the scale of the challenges that I have been observing in day to day practice.  The professional and personal challenge is how to respond.   It is easy to grumble about what is not happening, and much more challenging to work out how to do something positive.  This conference therefore set out to offer a critique of the current rhetoric on outcomes and evidence based practice in services to children and families with a view to offering a small glimpse of what a future 'really evidence based vision' might be.   My belief is that we are failing to see the wood for the trees.   The scale of the unmet need for children and families is in my view enormous but the biggest contributing factor in poor mental health and educational outcomes is not poor services per se but a collective failure to recognise the critical importance of child development, brain development and the adult role.  

I believe that the only way to really shift this is to give these issues much more value in the fabric of how we make policy and practice decisions.  And for this a clear educational approach is needed and a clear strategy.  

Somehow if we are serious about helping children, we have to get to grips with the important role of the adult.  We need to start to develop strong shared understandings and we need to think strategically 

This first annual conference was a satisfying start.  If you are interested in working with others to tackle these issues, please get in touch!

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