Before the pandemic, my role as Children, Young People and Families Lead took me all over the UK, meeting counsellors, Government officials and other key stakeholders linked to the provision and funding of school and community-based counselling. A cause which continues to be a key driver in my day-to-day work.

Early on in my BACP journey, I was fortunate to meet with representatives from Citizen’s UK, a network of community organisers who engage with leaders from health, local authorities, faith communities, politicians, local councillors, and elected mayors to make changes with and alongside local people. At the heart of all of this work were verbal testimonials from community members in support of much needed change.

In 2019 Citizens UK called for funded school counselling provision in the North-East in Newcastle, eventually leading to a post being secured for a pilot project across an academy of schools. As part of this process, we worked closely with community activist, Simon Mason (Citizen’s UK, Tyne and Wear) alongside BACP’s research team to look at the best way of measuring impact. This resulted in an evaluation report, which was published in 2021.

The evaluation, led by BACP senior research fellow Charlie Duncan, highlighted key findings supporting the positive effects of school counselling, which I was delighted to share as a guest speaker at a Citizen’s UK assembly event in Brighton in November 2022.

The event itself was transformative, energetic, and fast paced; the power of community activism in action, holding leaders to account, while providing a platform for those with lived experience to have their voices heard.

The assembly ask was simple. Would the leader of Brighton and Hove Council, Councillor Mac Cafferty, alongside Usman Niaziu, the Deputy CEO of the Sussex Partnership Foundation Trust, commit funding to jointly finance a pilot school counselling project across all schools in the area at a cost of £2m pounds? 

Both leaders were under the spotlight and on stage throughout the presentations to a packed audience, listening to a range of powerful testimonials, including one from a student who talked about the impact the pandemic had on her mental health and how working alongside a psychotherapist, funded by the school, had been life changing. Head teacher, and host for the evening, Shelley Baker, talked about how at one point they could afford to employ a counsellor for five days a week but had to cut it to three days due to funding constraints even though demand for counselling is now higher.

Sadly, on this occasion, both Councillor Mac Cafferty and Usman Niaziu, couldn’t commit to jointly funding the pilot programme across Brighton and Hove. Although disappointing for those making the case for the investment, the event proved a great opportunity to promote the value and impact of counselling.

Despite the decision, the Council and Foundation Trust confirmed interest in the offer from BACP to be involved in an evaluation, if and when funding could be secured. So, although it was a no to the funding ask, it did open a door for future discussions. The event also provided the opportunity to speak to MP Lloyd Russell Moyle who has been a long-term supporter of the need for school counselling across Brighton and Hove.

The local BBC news, South-East Today, featured children’s mental health as their leading story, resulting in a live interview with me, providing the opportunity to highlight the ever-growing need for additional ring-fenced funding for school counselling provision.

I was finally able to meet with some key contacts I’ve been working with during the pandemic, Julian Rose and Ruth Simmonds from TAC Access, alongside another key contact, Lisa Humphries, from the Chichester College Group.  

TAC Access have been signing up BACP members to their TAC Access Commissioner’s platform so schools and colleges can directly book experienced and CYP trained specialist counsellors at the rate of pay the practitioners set for themselves. The problem isn’t a lack of experienced practitioners, but rather schools with over-stretched budgets with little wriggle room to buy in the critical services they so clearly need.

The journey for funded counselling provision across all schools in England, in line with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales continues.