The right environment, culture and relationships go a long way to helping children heal from difficult early experiences. Lucy Redstone explains how her role as clinical psychologist is to work with colleagues at Wings Notts to ensure the environment is sensitive and responsive to children who have experienced trauma, with specialist intervention at the right time for children.
The impact of trauma on children
Boys and girls join Wings Notts with a range of social, emotional and mental health needs. Because of past experiences, which might include abuse, neglect and the breakdown of foster placements, many of them don’t feel safe in relationships.The lack of trust and insecurity they feel can make itself known through behaviour, for example, self-harm or aggression. The children arriving at Wings Notts often have experienced relational trauma. But others see only worrying behaviour. It’s an isolating, frightening and frustrating experience that comes on top of memories of having been harmed, let down, or ignored.
Lucy Redstone, Clinical Psychologist and interim Clinical Lead, has the job of uncovering what lies behind children’s behaviours. By understanding what they have experienced, and forming hypotheses about how they view themselves and the world, and what is behind them, the job of planning and delivering the specific support they need can begin.
Her role is much more than that of a therapist: she offers training and support to the 100+ staff at Wings Notts in delivering the approaches and therapies that can help children move from surviving to thriving.
Setting-wide therapeutic approaches
Lucy says: “When children arrive, because of what they may have experienced with birth families or with placements where the support hasn’t been effective, they often believe that they are bad people and no-one understands them . Getting them to that place where they feel safe, able to form relationships, and then go and achieve their educational goals and ideally be able to go back and live in a family setting, is the job of every single member of staff here.”
“It’s my job to ensure we work together and there is a stable, therapeutic, consistent approach to interactions and that we become a reflective, questioning and supportive community.”
“My role is about getting all the staff to adopt a reflective approach to their interactions and making sense of behaviours they find challenging. I took this role as there was a clear opportunity to help the setting develop a wider and more consistent approaches to trauma. To have that ambition as a setting is so important.”
The importance of environment
The rural environment at Wings Nottingham - the school occupies the buildings and grounds of a former stately home with acres of grounds – can be an adjustment for some children, who are not used to living in a rural area.
“Our grounds and the space we have here means that we can be more creative. We can do walk and talk sessions. Sometimes a child will open up in a different way. Being somewhere where there is space and where every face is a familiar face, gives the kids a different perspective. There’s lots of opportunity to try new things, and we are engaged with local communities, there are trips into towns, but the home environment is in itself therapeutic.
The entire environment at Wings Notts is carefully managed through audits. Lucy explains, “Lighting, colours, temperatures, the condition of décor, furniture…all of these things affect the way people feel and how they interact, so we try to create the physical environment where children can feel safe and thrive.”
Embedding Therapeutic Approaches
Clinical psychologists deliver evidence-based interventions to support children with a range of distressing difficulties, such as anxiety, low mood, and responses to trauma. The therapeutic approaches Lucy offers include cognitive-behavioural interventions, attachment-based therapies and systemic therapies. Lucy is keen to stress that, as important as therapies are, it is not the hour one-to-one session with a therapist, that will in itself bring about change for a child in how they feel about themselves and how they are able to relate to others. The therapy will be most effective in the context of a therapeutic and responsive environment.
“That’s why a good day for me will be perhaps when I’ve overheard a conversation between staff or children, where they have been reflective, and really tried to understand what lies behind someone’s behaviour.”
It’s every interaction, and the cumulative impact of those engagements, and the consistency of them, that helps children with trauma feel safe. Lucy explains: “It’s the conversations with the cleaner, the care staff, the school dining room staff not just that hour a week that they might spend with you, that over time reinforce that it is safe to trust people, that there are people who can be relied upon, and care.
Lucy and her colleagues in the clinical team offer courses and training for education, care and support staff on a range of topics, alongside external providers. This enables staff to learn and develop specialist skills in working with children to help them develop and reach their aspirations.
It’s all about relationships
The relationships between staff underpin enable the relationships children’s can form with their peers and teachers and carers.
“It’s relationships,” Lucy says, “that is what we are strong at here at Wings Notts, and that is what this job is all about.”