What schools and further education settings can do
School environment and ethos, especially the extent to which children feel safe and positive about relationships with school staff and friends, are important for all children and young people – but are particularly important to those with attachment difficulties.
A school cannot replace a secure attachment with a primary care-giver, but it can offer a secure base; a place of safety, consistency, routine and opportunities for children and young people to develop relationships with trusted adults – encouraging them to open up and speak about difficult experiences, thoughts and feelings, process their emotions and thoughts.
If you are at all concerned about a child or young person, you should always speak to your designated safeguarding lead as a matter of priority. They will be able to advise on suitable next steps, and speaking to them about any concerns should always be the first action you take, ahead of any of the suggestions on this page.
Although the suggestions on this page are broadly split into primary and secondary age groups, the majority of the advice can be applicable for all ages. All children and young people are different, and it’s important to understand the needs of the individual child and young person when looking for ways to support their mental health and wellbeing.
What primary schools can do
Build positive relationships with pupils
It is important for primary schools to take time to develop positive connections with children in order to build up trust and give them an experience of an adult who is reliable, consistent and trustworthy. If the school can become a secure base for children with attachment difficulties, then this will help to support their development.
Explore options for in-school programmes
A number of universal and targeted school-based programmes are proven to help children to understand and manage thoughts and feelings and learn effective coping skills in the face of adversity and challenging events. These programmes help children connect with, label, express and process emotions in a healthy way which can be an important protective factor in building resilience and preventing poor mental health.
Speak to your safeguarding lead
Some children will also need a little extra help. Nurture groups, delivered with small groups of children, can support children’s unmet attachment needs. Some children may also need help through school pastoral/counselling support, through discussion with your school nurse or through referral to community-based support.
What secondary schools and further education settings can do
While attachment difficulties may be easier to spot in younger children, there are still things secondary schools and FE settings can do to support their students and develop positive relationships.
Help young people build relationships with trusted adults in the setting
Young people should be supported to develop a relationship with key, trusted adults in the setting, who they feel able to turn to if they need help. Schools should avoid a situation where a student relies on only one trusted adult – a network of support will relieve pressure on individual staff members, and help students feel that there are a variety of ways they can seek support.
Signpost to sources of support
It’s also important that young people are aware of the different support that is available for them in school. Highlight the support they can access regularly, through clear signposting – share information in hallways or classroom displays, or regularly reference support pathways in assemblies or other group activities.
Explore opportunities for peer support
Peer support can also be helpful for young people, who may find it easier to engage with other students. Think about opportunities for developing peer support activities or programmes in your setting. Find out more about developing a peer support programme in your setting.
Concerned about a child or young person?
If you are worried that a child or young person is at risk involve your designated safeguarding lead as a matter of priority who will contact the parents/carers and other services as necessary. If the child or young person is at immediate risk, ensure that they are taken to their GP or A&E as a matter of urgency, depending on the severity of the concern.Find out more