How a Sheffield organisation is stepping in to help children better access mental health services and quickly

"If we don't access issues now children carry them into their lifespan, into adulthood and into parenting," said Andrea Chatten, founder of a Sheffield organisation that supports well-being in young people.

Friday, 27th September 2019, 13:32 pm
Updated Monday, 7th October 2019, 09:15 am
Staff at Unravel, celebrating it's fifth birthday

Managing director and founder, Andrea Chatten, describes Unravel as the ‘bridge’ between educational psychology and child adolescent mental health services, or CAMHS.

Andrea has always been drawn to children with behavioural difficulties and wants people to look beyond the idea that they are ‘just naughty kids’.

She recognises that there are many barriers in preventing these children accessing mental health services, which is where the problem lies for a large part of it.

Andrea Chatten, managing director at Unravel

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Andrea said: “Children are terrified of the system - they refuse to go.

“Parents are also scared to go for fear of being stigmatised.

“Some kids come from homes with parental neglect. If the parent doesn’t take the children, they don’t go.”

To help children better access services, she set up Unravel in September 2014 - something she had been thinking about for many years.

Andrea Chatten

48-year-old Andrea added: “There are two problems. Children can’t access services and children can’t access services quickly.

“Kids shouldn't feel rubbish.”

Unravel helps children manage their emotional well-being, improve self esteem and resilience.

This is achieved through one-to-one sessions involving techniques like CBT, positive psychology, mindfulness and motivational interviewing.

The organisation also provides training for teachers and workshops for parents.

Having just celebrated it’s fifth birthday, Unravel is an organisation that is growing with success and has helped a total of 2,932 children up to now.

It has recently been promoted by Sheffield Council and is working with trusts and schools.

Unravel is to become embedded into academy trusts in the future.

Andrea suggested that the organisation’s success may be due to the fact that it ‘recruits more staff than it needs’.

She said: “The biggest challenge is preempting what is to come.”

Andrea told how within the first six months of Unravel starting, its client base had moved beyond Sheffield and current clients travel from as far as Edinburgh and London.

She explained how there has been a ‘real spike’ in regards to the demand for their services and believes the mental health crisis that the UK is currently facing may be a factor.

Andrea explained how one young person - who had attempted suicide and was passed from service to service that said ‘they couldn’t help’ - became one of the many individuals that Unravel has helped.

Andrea said: “If someone needs help, I can’t say no. How can you say no?”

Having been a teacher in a range of schools, including a special needs school and a pupil referral unit, she recognises that each child is an individual and has specific needs.

Unravel puts these needs at the heart of what it does, describing it as their 3:60 approach.

The organisation takes individual differences into account - it uses a model that adapts to the child.

Most clients go into the office on Endowood Road, for sessions, however, staff are willing to be flexible.

Another important part is establishing a positive relationship with the children, which Andrea believes is paramount.

She ensures this requirement is met by recruiting staff with the same characteristics - people that have warmth, respect, care and compassion.

Being able to make sure that a child is listened to and understood is another vital aspect.

Andrea said: “You need to connect emotionally with the child because you want children to come back - so you can help them as much as you can.”

“Children are often craving that connection with someone they understand.”

When a positive relationship is established, children are given action steps and offered strategies of change.

They are techniques used to put the child ‘in a position of power’ - the driving force for change.

Andrea said: “They learn to know they can do it.

“They become empowered.”

Anonymous questionnaires are given to the children to monitor and make sure that Unravel is meeting its objectives.

“Not one child has said Unravel has not helped,” Andrea said.

Unravel sees children aged six years old through to 18.

Some may have weekly sessions to begin with, moving to fortnightly sessions when their confidence grows and positive changes are noticeable.

Unravel does not end provision after this though, as Andrea believes that the need to ‘check in’ and ‘reflection’ are equally as important.

It is ‘very rare’ that Unravel dismisses anyone that asks for help, but the request for help has to be in place in order for Unravel to provide it.

Andrea said: “Just get in touch. The quicker you address a problem, the better. The longer it goes on, there becomes more problems. Some things can be fixed more quickly. For change to happen, the earlier the better.”

“Our aim is to help children now and across generations. If we don't access issues now, children carry them into their lifespan, into adulthood and into parenting. They become generational issues. If they are happy now, they become a happier adult and parent, and have happier children.”

It is Andrea’s passion in helping children achieve happiness and to help them and their families understand and manage emotional and behavioural issues.

In order to reach out to more people, she is also a regular on BBC radio and has written a series of books called ‘The Blinks’.

Andrea added: “The most important thing is the feeling of seeing a child walk out. It is the best feeling in the world.”

For more information about Unravel, see: https://unravelsupport.co.uk/