Walsall - Addressing emotional and mental health problems

Helping children and young people enjoy good emotional health and wellbeing and develop resilience is really important to their overall health and development. Walsall's school nursing service - delivered by school nurses employed by Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust – provides a wide range of support to children and parents through a programme of group sessions, courses and webinars. This case study showcases the important role of school nurses in the education system.

School nurses ‘ideally placed to help’

Walsall’s school nursing service first started running dedicated emotional and mental health support groups more than 10 years ago.

It started with the FRIENDS programme, which originates in Australia, and is targeted at those struggling with anxiety, low self-esteem and confidence issues. The programme is cognitive behavioural therapy-based and focuses on key skills such as confidence building, problem solving, resilience and communication.

Professional Lead for School Nursing Sallyann Sutton said: “At the time the government was talking about the importance of investing in mental health support, and we knew as school nurses we could play a crucial role. Helping children to look after their emotional health is as important as them looking after their physical health. They need to learn how to cope with the stresses that life undoubtedly throws at them and to bounce back and learn from challenging times.”

Over the years, the support has expanded and there are now four dedicated FRIENDS courses:

  • Fun FRIENDS for four to six-year-olds
  • FRIENDS for Life for seven to 11-year-olds
  • Teen FRIENDS for Life for those aged 13+
  • Adult Resilience for parents and carers

The courses last between six and eight weeks. The sessions are largely delivered by the service’s nursery nurses, but training is available for school staff and partners in children’s services, helping to increase awareness and skills among the workforce in the process.

Children work in groups at the sessions, which are run after school in either community venues or the schools themselves – although they were run virtually at times during the pandemic.

Parents need support too

The pre-school and primary school courses involve the parents as well as children, while the 13+ one just involves the teenagers themselves. The parent-focussed one is a more recent addition to the options.

Ms Sutton said: “We found parents were contacting us worried about their children but were themselves struggling to cope. They had low self-esteem and confidence and needed support for themselves. That is why we launched the one for parents. The idea is they start the course so they develop strategies for themselves alongside their children attending groups.

“The support is now needed more than ever. The pandemic has been very difficult, particularly for the more vulnerable families. We are seeing more and more people coming to us for support. Many parents ring us directly needing help.

“We almost do a mini-consultation on the phone before working out what the best course of action is. We can refer on to our local mental health services if need be – there is CAHMS and online counselling available.”

“School nurses can take a holistic approach”

But the school nursing service has plenty of ways of supporting families. Alongside the FRIENDS courses, the team also offers a variety of other options. This includes an anger management group for primary-aged children to help them manage their feelings and then there are three parenting courses.

  • Understanding Your Child, which is a 10-week course for parents/carers with children under 11 who would like to meet other parents and explore ways to help promote positive behaviour in their child.
  • The internationally recognised Triple P parenting course, which focuses on positive parenting and offers different strategies to cope with behavioural problems. Telephone support is also provided.
  • A six-week course tailored towards parents/carers who have a child with autism. The Cygnet course combines peer support with tailored sessions based on a programme designed by Barnardo’s.

There is also a series of workshops to help parents and carers to understand children’s emotions and children’s behaviours. These are short sessions which are a good introduction to the service and provide useful tips and hints of strategies that can be tried at home.

They have now been recorded as webinars, but the service is working with Catcher Media to produce a series of more polished films, including podcasts, in line with some of the material that has been produced for classroom-based learning in areas such as sexual health.

Ms Sutton added: “We want to find new ways of engaging parents and children. People consume media like this, and we think it will be a good way of introducing them to what we have to offer before they sign up for the courses. For some, just getting advice and information from these films may be enough.

“But the strength of delivering this kind of support as school nurses is that we can take a really holistic approach if needed. We can do the safeguarding; we can do the healthy lifestyle support. Mental and emotional health problems do not happen in isolation.”


Sallyann Sutton

Professional Lead for School Nursing, Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust

Email: Sallyann.sutton@walsallhealthcare.nhs.uk