Hannah, Managing Director of Pixel Learning, mentored a 9 year old boy through Chance UK. She experienced first hand the incredible power of early intervention in empowering children and nurturing their emotional wellbeing. The exceptional work of Gracia and all of the Chance team should be the benchmark for all organisations working in early intervention.
Last week one of our Chance UK Programme Managers, James, was presenting a case study of the children Chance UK work with to the Trustees. Nothing new in this, every Trustee meeting starts this way to remind everyone why and for whom we are all here. The boy he was presenting, C, was 8 years old at the time of referral. He was a child with quite a high level of behavioural difficulties, and some of his behaviours were extreme, requiring a 4 to 1 staff ratio at school.
However, it was noted from very early on that he loved his little sister deeply. This meant he had empathy for others or, at the very least, one other and therefore we and his mentor had something very positive to work on. Chance UK, which is 21 years old in May this year, has always worked with children using a solution-focused approach. In 1995, that was certainly not the norm, and even in 2001, when I took over as CEO, we still heard children referred to us being described as ‘a lost cause’, ‘from a bad family’ or even as ‘evil’. We don’t hear this now from referrers and other agencies we work with, but we do see it in the newspapers and on TV. I once took a call from a journalist who asked if we could provide children to take part in a documentary she was making. Jokingly, I told her if it was going to be called ‘Kids from Hell’ then that’s just where she could go. She quietly said ‘Oh!’ and put down the phone. I have no idea what the programme was called in the end or how many organisations she had to call before someone said yes, but the mind-set was clear.
By the end of his mentoring year, our C had managed to access the empathy and care he felt for his younger sister and use it with others and see its impact. He recognised he didn’t want to hurt other children, his teachers or his mum and learned how to control his temper. He had always had the ability to do that and his mentor had helped bring that ability out in him. It reminded me that we all constantly need to check ourselves in our understanding and behaviour with children. Do we look hard enough at what skills and qualities children already possess and take time to build on them? Are we working with them early enough for that behaviour to change or do we wait until a child is really harming themselves or others before we give them the attention they deserve?
I often find myself talking to local authorities, government departments and other funders about how much money early intervention will save the country in the future. It makes people fund our work more than any other sales pitch. But one day I would like simply to be able to say ‘I would like to give this child a happier childhood’ and watch them open their purse!
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