Children’s Mental Health Week is from 6-12 February this year, and the topic is ‘Let’s Connect.’ One of our CAL Practitioners Adeline Pilfold has written a piece on her experiences in this area working with her school dog Waffle.
As someone who has nearly always had a dog in my life, I have experienced personally and anecdotally how dogs work as a conduit to connect people of ages, gender, culture and background – even people who are not that keen on dogs.
In schools I see and feel first-hand the connectivity a dog provides, from the moment we walk in. Students, teachers, support staff and parents are all keen to know who the dog is, what is their reason for being in the school and who gets to meet the dog.
Increasingly we are seeing more children with SEMH (Social, Emotional Mental Health) issues, this increase could be due to many increased stresses such as the cost-of-living crisis, the after effects of the pandemic along with the stresses general childhood brings such as friendships and worries about schoolwork. Often children cannot find or know the words to articulate their concerns, sometimes children do not want to express their concerns for fear of reprisal. Having a dog, who is patient, calm, cuddly and does not ask questions but provides unrequited support is the connection the child needs to open up or seek support. Having a dog present connects the child to the adult and enables a rewarding and meaningful bond to develop.
One of the secondary schools we work in have a number of children with EBSA (Emotionally Based School Avoidance) whereby some children either have low attendance, will ‘bunk’ lessons or school or will avoid lessons and spend their time elsewhere. One particular child I work with is working off curriculum and struggles to come in on time in the mornings. When Waffle and I started visiting the school, we inconsistently saw the child due to their school avoidance. However, the child’s attendance and punctuality has improved since they know that Waffle and I will be waiting to greet them at Reception first thing in the morning. The child beams as Waffle greets him and we ease the child into the school day by going for a walk in the grounds and having a chat and a cuddle with Waffle in the therapy room. Waffle is then the hook for this child to stay in school – they are delighted when they bump into Waffle during the day thus improving attendance and engagement.
CAL will be taking part in Children’s Mental Health week – more information on how you can get involved can be found on Children’s Mental Health Week (childrensmentalhealthweek.org.uk)