Interview - Monika Jephcott, chief executive and clinical director of PTUK


PTUK, a member of the APPG on a Fit and Healthy Childhood, launched its Child Mental Health Charter earlier in the year, with the aim of convincing the Government to introduce a Mental Health Bill to support children

Monika Jephcott
Monika Jephcott

ARE YOU HEARING OF YOUNGER CHILDREN PRESENTING WITH MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS?

According to a 2017 report, funded by the Department of Health and Social Care, one in eight (12.8 per cent) of five- to nine-year-olds has a diagnosable mental health disorder. It found rates of mental health disorders increased with age, with 5 per cent of two- to four-year-olds having experienced a disorder, compared with 17 per cent of 17- to 19-year-olds.

HOW DOES PTUK AND MEMBERS SUPPORT THESE CHILDREN?

PTUK recognises children have different needs from those of young people. Children cannot or do not want to talk about their problems. Play therapists help heal them from the traumatic experiences that they have experienced, are stored in the amygdala part of the brain and also cause damage to the hippocampus where learning capability is diminished. In particular, their work is with very young children who can’t verbalise experiences.

In play therapy sessions, children choose from a wide range of therapeutic media like puppets, clay, musical instruments, role play, dressing-up, therapeutic story, messy play, creative visualisation and others.

The therapists are trained not just to observe or comment but to communicate with the children with the media that has been chosen by the child. For example, if an angry child beats a drum aggressively, the therapist initially plays a drum with the same energy that the child presents. Then by offering support, the child gradually comes to self-regulate and the playing becomes quieter and stops.

WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE MENTAL HEALTH FIRST-AIDERS IN SCHOOLS?

While mental health first-aiders are useful, there is no practice-based evidence that they are effective. Also, if they are used to refer children, then they must be trained at least to Level 5 (foundation degree level).

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO LAUNCH THE CHILD MENTAL HEALTH CHARTER?

We launched it partly to highlight funding problems and to show that children’s needs are different from those of young people. We did it also to protect children from unsafe and ineffective practice, so that only therapists on a Professional Standards Authority-accredited register should work with the mind of a child.

It’s about getting the Government to put more funding into children’s mental health. Children should come first because their minds are our future. Services should be made easily accessible to parents through their child’s school and there needs to be an assurance of joined-up working.

WHAT DO YOU ULTIMATELY HOPE TO ACHIEVE?

The provision of a play therapy service for all children in need. We are continuing our campaign to reform the Mental Health Act of 1983 by putting children at the heart of the reform by getting support of all MPs and ensuring adequate funding. All Nursery Worldreaders can help with this by lobbying their MPs to include this in their party manifesto.

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