One of the many activities I enjoy in my BACP role is visiting different counselling services available for free at the point of access in a range of children, young people and their families (CYPF) settings.

Recently I visited a counselling service commissioned by Doncaster Council offered as part of the Parent and Family Support Service, which sits within the local Children’s Social Care Help and Protection Service.

The service offers counselling to children and young people (seven to 18 years old), as well as to parents and carers across a range of Family Hubs covering all of Doncaster, with each centre hosting a range of other family support services too.

There are 12 hubs in all, originally based on the Sure Start Children Centre model, with all hubs situated very much in the heart of residential communities as opposed to school settings. The Hub I visited also hosted the local Young Carer’s Team, with some beautiful examples of joined up work between young carers themselves and the counselling service.

The counselling service includes a permanent full-time Counselling Co-ordinator, a paid Lead CYP Counsellor and two additional CYP Counsellors, including one full-time and one part-time post (who are funded to work with under 13s).

The Lead Counsellor and CYP Counsellor roles are currently funded via the NHS Better Care Fund (BCF), which worryingly comes to an end in June 2024.

Through its national support programme, the BCF is committed to ensuring that local areas have the right support available to them as they work towards improving integration between health, housing and social care services, with a person-centred care approach at the heart of service delivery.

The service hosts student counsellors on student counselling placements, as well as a small number of volunteer counsellors. As noted above, the current Lead Counsellor and CYP Counsellors are only contracted until June 2024, which is causing massive uncertainty for the service, not only for those employed but also for the student counselling placements, which are currently managed by the Lead Counsellor.

This is concerning as they clearly provide a nurturing service for students on placement. Their Lead Counsellor Gill, who was once a student on placement with the service herself, spends valuable time and energy on ensuring students gain the best of experiences. Gill ensures they are skilled and competent to work safely and effectively with children and young people. The placements provide on-the-job training, resulting in paid opportunities for some. However, issues around sustainable funding are a real worry whatever the setting.

The service they provide has the capacity to work with approximately 70 clients per week. Referrals  can be made directly from young people themselves, or their parents and carers via the early-help MASH Hub or as part of an open pathway via Early Help or social care. A full range of profesionals can refer into the service, such as schools, CAMHS and GPs.

For children and young people under 16, parents or carers are routinely asked to meet with the counsellor for the initial appointment to discuss the counselling agreement and how the counselling will work. This is in-keeping with the council’s whole family values and is very much inclusive of a systems around the child' approach.

I want to thank all the counselling team and other centre members for giving such a warm welcome to me and service users. They provide a unique service, embedded within a family hub model,  exuding an air of calm, with the counselling rooms echoing this warm, tranquil and welcoming feeling.

They truly offer a viable alternative to more traditional school-based counselling services and reaffirm the belief that children and young people’s counselling services ideally need to be in a range of settings so that they have choice, particularly out of school hours and in holidays .

Seeing a service like this in action further emphasises the importance of our campaign to improve access to funding for counselling in both schools and other community settings.