Schoolchildren in Newport who have no access to technology are being given special support so they can receive vital counselling services.
In partnership with Newport City Council, specialists at the University of South Wales (USW) have worked with the city’s schools to put together a programme that gives vulnerable children a way to get the help they need.
The service is provided through Talking Zone – the Children and Young People Counselling Service at USW – which, in more normal times, offers counselling to children across Newport from qualified specialists, and also from students who are studying for a degree or postgraduate qualification in therapeutic studies.
When lockdown first hit, the normal counselling service couldn’t continue as Talking Zone staff had to start working from home. However, the team reacted quickly to make sure the service continued.
“When we went into lockdown we had to look at what we were providing and how we could continue to do that in a different way,” said Liz Armitti, who is Service Manager for USW Therapy Services, of which Talking Zone is a part.
“We had to transfer the service to online video and telephone delivery, ensure the whole team had the right training and competencies in line with professional guidance, and we needed to be able to provide that in a remote environment.”
As well as thinking about how the service would be delivered, there were also questions about how some children would be able to access the counselling.
“Most of the youngsters who access the service want to talk about anxiety and family issues in a safe environment, one where what they say is kept confidential,” Liz added. “The problem with lockdown is that there may not be a place at home for them to do this, which may exacerbate the issues that already exist.
“Add to this the fact that many of the children may not have access to a personal laptop, mobile phone, or even broadband, and the challenge gets even bigger.”
However, after holding talks with Newport City Council, for which USW provides the counselling service, a solution to the challenge was found.
“In some cases, where we identified someone who needed therapy but couldn’t access at home, through collaboration with the schools we agreed to try and set up a physical room in schools across the city,” Liz said.
“This could then be made available for the child to access technology, be it a computer or a phone, so they could speak privately to a counsellor and get the vital support they needed.”
With school summer holidays fast approaching, in other years Talking Zone would be preparing to shut down ready to start again in the autumn term in September. This year, however, the service will continue an online delivery throughout the summer months thanks to extra funding from the Welsh Government.
“We’re delighted with the funding and the fact we’ll be continuing to offer counselling to those who need it during the summer break,” Liz said.
“It’s been a very unusual year, and school children may well need further support to handle the added uncertainty that lockdown and virus has brought.
“We are also looking to link in with local third-sector charities to ensure the support we offer is signposted to as many children and families as possible who may be able to benefit from it.”
For Liz and her team, the lockdown and subsequent changes have thrown up some ‘interesting’ questions, but, like many, they have thrived rather than struggled to find answers.
“We’ve seen this is as an opportunity and we’ve been able to adapt, we’ve been determined to forge a way through,” she said.
“The TalkingZone Team is dedicated to ensuring that whatever happens, we will continue to provide vital counselling and support services for children and young people in Newport.
“We’ve been totally focused on making sure the children can continue with the sessions if they want to and being able to do that has been a great achievement for us all.”
Talking Zone can be accessed through this link - https://talkingzone.southwales.ac.uk/