A Million & Me: Children in Need's great new initiative

20 Jun 2019 Nick Garbutt    Last updated: 20 Jun 2019

Pic: Margaret Weir, Unsplash

Around one in four of us will experience poor mental health during the course of our lives. In more than half of these cases problems start before the age of 14.

To make a difference we need children to tell us where, when and how they need help.

Earlier this year BBC Children in Need (CiN) launched A Million & Me – a £10 million fund to support children aged eight to 13 with their emotional wellbeing. It aims to encourage children to talk about their feelings and to help family, friends, carers and trusted adults to listen to them so that they can feel safe, happy and secure.

This week CiN held a “Shared Practice” event in Belfast, to explain more about the fund and specifically the principles underpinning it - a child’s right to participate and influence decision-making.

Traditionally CiN has been a reactive funder, responding to applications from charities. It distributed around 2,800 grants last year, 200 of which, £10 million in total, went to organisations in Northern Ireland. This work will continue. However A Million & Me marks a different, more proactive and strategic approach.

Professor Peter McBride, a BBC CiN trustee and chair of the  A Million & Me Advisory Panel explained: “ £10 million sounds like a lot of money but the reality is that it is a drop in the ocean given the scale of the problem.”

He said the plan was to engage across the UK to work out how best to use resources most effectively to achieve the programme’s goals.

Project Director Paddy Sloan said that the idea was not to over-medicalise the emotional health of children but more to make sure that there is less need for clinical interventions further down the road.

In recent years there has been a marked shift in public attitude to mental health, partly driven by celebrities and sports stars. People are becoming more comfortable talking about their mental and emotional well-being. What was a taboo is fading.

This needs to be extended to children as well – both for their sake and for society as a whole – failing to have that conversation is to store up problems for the future. And one of the most important assets in that work will be parents. But they need help to recognise the signs that their children may be struggling with their mental health and advice on what they can do to help build their confidence and resilience.

And as Ms Sloane explained critical to that are two partnerships that CiN has forged.

Children’s mental health experts at the charity YoungMinds have created an eLearning module for staff working at every UK store of Boots. This has been designed for staff to be able to recognise when people might need help and for them to encourage parents and carers to talk to their children to improve their wellbeing. Leaflets have also been produced which explain how to spot problems and how best to support children.

So where do children themselves fit into this?

Professor Laura Lundy, co-director of the Centre for Children’s Rights at QUB is leading the development of a model of children’s participation for A Million & Me.

Professor Lundy is a global authority on children’s rights to participate in decision-making. She is best known for developing the Lundy Model to help understand Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child which states: “States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”

It has been adopted by the European Commission and is the basis of the Irish National Children’s Participation Strategy.

Children have a right to be heard and a right to have a say. Too often they are not being listened to and not being heard.  

Professor Lundy exploded some myths about children’s rights to participate.

These included: “They are too young to understand”

This right is not dependent on age or maturity, just the weight to be given and children can express themselves before they can write or talk.

And: “It’s too sensitive.”

The right applies to all matters affecting them and so therefore you can’t just shut it down.

If we are to make a lasting difference it is also important how we talk about it, the language we use, the images we present. These can inform and influence public attitude.

A brilliant example of this, which also drives home why it is so important that children and young people are listened to was provided by Voices of Young People in Care (VOYPIC). Young people in the care system have made a powerful, must watch video for the BBC challenging the cold, distant and sometimes hurtful language that social workers, civil servants and other professionals use about them.

Some examples are the acronym LAC (Looked after Child) which prompts some children to question what they are lacking in; placement which doesn’t sound or feel like home; and contact when that meant you were going to see your family.

Whoever dreamed those terms up did not intend to hurt anyone, but they have.

The young people are going on to develop a dictionary of new words to replace them and are campaigning to get the wording of relevant legislation changed to reflect that. It is a perfect example of how the use of language, even by people in caring professions, can cause pain.

A Million & Me  is an exciting project that can and will make a difference. It has been extremely well designed and it a perfect example of a funder using a strategic approach that will maximise the impact of its investment. More than that it will empower children and their families and carers to improve their resilience, and open up a broader conversation about how we talk about emotional wellbeing.



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