Oli is YMCA East Surrey’s first full-time School Early Intervention Coordinator, providing guidance to schools and support to young people in one-to-one or group sessions.
“You can only understand the importance of this work when you realise how many young people are in need of extra support which schools don’t always have the resources to provide,” says Oli, 27.
He uses goal-based outcomes and solution focused approaches to help young people aged 11-18 to deal with issues relating to social skills, emotional intelligence, sleep routines, confidence, anxiety, low mood, anger and school attendance.
Taking on his role in September 2021, Oli works under the umbrella of the newly formed Surrey Wellbeing Partnership, covering five schools in the Reigate and Banstead area. A second term time Early
Intervention Coordinator has since started covering the Epsom and Ewell area and in September a new practitioner joined the team to focus on supporting primary schools.
“I have young people turning up early for the sessions and realise that they’ve been waiting for this all week,” says Oli.
“If I can teach them one coping strategy during our time together, then I will consider that progress is being made. That small change will ripple out to their teachers, friends, parents and carers, taking a little of the weight off the shoulders of both the young person and their school.”
“YMCA East Surrey’s youth work projects – WAVES or one of the youth clubs – are often a good next step for young people after one-to-one sessions. Being part of a supportive group can really help young people who have been struggling with friendships and confidence.”
Oli highlights two factors which have contributed to the growing need for emotional wellbeing and mental health support for young people.
“The pandemic was not only difficult for students but exhausting as well. It’s a tragedy how much young people lost in two years, from the learning of key skills to the ability to form close social relationships. For some, their place of home was not a place of safety.”
“If you add the pressures of social media, which can result in poor body image, fear of missing out, bullying and more, it is easy to see that young people today are facing challenges which have not been seen before.”
In summer 2022, 260 Early Intervention sessions were delivered across five schools. “Some young people become loud, angry and frustrated. We need to make sure that they are not so desperate for attention that they find it through gang culture or county lines.”
“Others show up to school, sit in silence and suffer. There should be no point at which a young person feels invisible. If we can provide just 45 minutes per week of relief, then at least they have that session where they feel OK.”
This summer, one young person who has had one-to-one sessions with Oli turned up for every one of her GCSE exams. Previously, her school attendance had been poor, she had low mood and was self-harming.
“I was over the moon that she chose to give herself the best step up that she could to move forwards with her life,” says Oli.
“Our work can be challenging but positive feedback from the young people we work with, combined with the changes we can see in their lives, make it incredibly rewarding.”