Thanks to the Jewish News for featuring this piece in the Education Supplement.

Charity Camp Simcha has been visiting schools to raise awareness of its work supporting families who have a child with a serious mental health condition.

While the charity has historically focused on children with physical illnesses, two years ago it expanded its remit to mental health, providing pastoral support to families – and working with other mental health charities in the community to complement existing services.

Daniel Gillis, Camp Simcha’s deputy chief executive and Head of Services, explains: “Once a child has a network of clinical support in place, we will work as part of a multi-disciplinary team to help the rest of the family.

“Many of the issues, such as the impact on siblings, is the same for mental health as it is for physical. The fact that the child has cancer or an eating disorder…  the impact of having an ill sibling can be much the same.”

The charity’s social work manager Leat Preston says the pandemic’s impact on children’s mental health has been very apparent in her conversations with schools, as well as referrals.

“Some young people thrived but others who are more in need of a routine and social structure … that was all gone and they didn’t know how to find themselves,” she explains.

“A lot of children went on social media and got engrossed in that world and picked up all sorts of things and then they lost their confidence and the skills to socialise. If they already had a mental health difficulty that potentially made it all harder.”

“We are raising awareness with schools about what we do for families in these and other situations. It’s helping them to think about which of their families might benefit from that support – and they can suggest parents get in touch.”

“What we have found is that in some schools, towards the end of last Summer, there was a big increase of mental health concerns around a lot of Year 8 (now Year 9) children, as they were the group that had to transition to secondary school during lockdown.

“We also have a lot of young people in our caseload who just sat their GCSEs this summer. That was really hard.”

If the family decides to self-refer, Camp Simcha carries out an assessment.

“We talk to parents about what’s going on and try to understand who is supporting the family and how it has impacted on them,” said Mrs Preston. “Then we think about whether Camp Simcha is going to be able to make a meaningful difference.

“We aim to make the assessment a reflective therapeutic space so people feel heard, validated, understood.

“We haven’t got a magic wand but what we have seen over the last couple of years is that we can make a big difference to family life with our support.”

That might be practical help, someone for the parents to talk to or therapeutic activities for siblings.

“It’s all about the Camp Simcha way,” says Mrs Preston.  “It’s the crisis food that goes in when they are having a tough day or a care package when a parent isn’t coping. It’s about that love and constant support.”

If you or someone you know needs Camp Simcha’s support, please call 020 8202 9297 in the strictest confidence or email