Supporting vulnerable pupils during COVID-19

Lisa MillardBeacon Education Services

Before this strange and complicated world that we have found ourselves in we had developed a group Theraplay® model that was working. It did what it said on the tin. We could support families and organisations using the Theraplay® model. We worked with community organisations and were just starting our journey to connect with schools. We knew the value of what we were doing and had so many success stories. We knew that so many families were out there struggling and were desperate for help. These families were finding that everywhere they turned yet another door was being slammed shut. We knew that our model helped those very families. We were successful in getting funding for our work and life was pretty good. Business was good. It was slowly growing.

Then COVID-19 threw our world into chaos.

All around us we saw colleagues furloughed, shutting up shop or jumping headlong into new fancy online ways of helping. Our mantra at Beacon has always been to “slow it down”. Take a step back. Breathe. Let the dust settle. We reminded each other of the importance of slowing down, even if it slowing down feels like the wrong thing to do.

COVID certainly meant slowing down was a no-brainer. However, our worlds quickly became busy, if not chaotic, in other ways with juggling home school, work, our families and our own anxieties about what would happen next. We found ourselves managing. We spent time researching how we could continue to support our families during this time. We knew, for many of them, our support would be a life line.

We joined other professionals online and we trained and honed our skills in online delivery of what they call Telehealth in America. We learnt how to provide a Theraplay® experience using ZOOM. We practiced within our own families and then with our team. We knew that this was going to work. We also knew it would need money, so we set about accessing emergency funding.  Gratefully, we received enough funding from the Heart of England Community Fund and BCVS to move our group therapy programmes online.

Partner organisations and schools were interested and curious. Our first groups were quickly up and running. Four families at a time join weekly virtual Theraplay® Groups supported by trained therapists with key workers from organisations and teachers watching on, picking up skills they can use within their own practice.These families get the joy of a weekly connection with others. The children see other children and smile and connect. We provide structure, nurture, engagement and challenge during these uncertain and terrifying times. We were happy to be able to bring joy and laughter in to homes.

It has been hugely rewarding to see these families connect with each other and build relationships with us. Some of the most vulnerable, hard-to-reach children who have caused many a sleepless night their parents and school leaders and staff are now part of our group programme. We can all rest a little easier knowing that we are there, checking in weekly to make sure the most vulnerable pupils are safe. The success of our programme has meant that we are now able to offer more support to parents or caregivers of vulnerable pupils with more parent-only sessions to allow time for reflection and space to share their stories.

As we begin the transition back to on-site schooling, we know our groups will be even more valuable. We can work virtually,  “ZOOMing” into classrooms. We can help support children and staff as they navigate this new world and the different challenges it brings. We are proud of our success and pleased to be able to continue offering our groups to vulnerable children and their families.

The emotional and psychological impact of COVID-19, compounded by our own fears and additional responsibilities, will be felt for a long time. Stories will need to be heard. We will be here on the other side of our screens making sure that we continue to support our most vulnerable children in the way we know best.

For more information about our group programme, please contact Julie Ashley-Higgins or Charlotte Jenkins. Alternatively, you can find more information on our website at 

With special thanks to BVSC and the Heart of England Community Foundation for the funding which has allowed us to continue to support families during Covid-19.