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Leila Baker on A Million & Me

Leila Baker joined BBC Children in Need on a consultancy basis to support the Insight team during internal restructuring.  Leila’s role included working on the evaluation of A Million & Me, the impact theme focussed on early support to children aged 8-13 who are beginning to struggle with their wellbeing and mental health.  Leila’s empathy with the topic was a real help as we established the programme and its Theory of Change with our colleagues in the Centre for Mental Health. Here Leila shares some reflections on the initiative.
“I am grateful to have played a small part in the early stages of this programme. I look forward to seeing it continue to proceed with humility and solidarity…”
It’s not often that a child or a teenager shows an interest in my work. But when they hear me mention BBC Children in Need’s A Million & Me, children absorbed in play look up for a moment, teenagers give me a sidelong glance. Not much is said. But there is a look of recognition and a barely perceptible nod of approval.

A Million & Me funds work in communities to support children and their families who are coping with emerging mental health issues or beginning to struggle with them. It funds charities that have found ways to help a community fold around a child, their friends and families or carers while they are going through this.

Children and the teenagers I meet know how important this is. Many of them are streets ahead of the adults around them in being able to say these things out loud. But they are children and some of the teenagers I have come across have been disappointed that the adults around them don’t seem comfortable or confident discussing mental health, and are often unsure how to help children with emerging mental health issues.

These are just my stories. But if I turn to the evidence and expertise that has helped BBC Children in Need shape this programme, the evidence backs them up. To give just a brief flavour of the wealth of evidence on which A Million & Me will build:

  • Recent evidence indicates that some 24% of girls and 11% boys aged 11-13, report anxiety and sadness levels bordering on clinical distress and 24% boys and 15% girls report anger and difficulties in behavioural control. If not addressed they may go on to need clinical interventions, potentially into their adult lives. Around half of all adults with mental health problems have presented with issues before the age of 14.
  • A variety of consultations have been undertaken with children and young people over the years to identify the support and early help they most value. These indicate that children and young people want accessible and non-stigmatising support in places and at times that suit them. One of the consistent themes to emerge is the importance of relationships and trust. Young people also increasingly call for the right to be actively involved in any decisions about what is right for them: “no decision about us without us”.
  • And finally, children involved in shaping this programme said that there is a need to train professionals to be able to open up conversations with children rather than just knowing how to respond if a child approaches them; there is a need for trusted adults to know what the signs are to spot that a child may be struggling. These can often be misread as a child being uninterested or not making an effort, so are met with challenge rather than understanding.

I am grateful to have played a small part in the early stages of this programme. I look forward to seeing it continue to proceed with humility and solidarity; to see it stand shoulder to shoulder not only with other institutions and programmes but also with children and teenagers committed to profoundly changing our attitudes and approach to their mental health.

Leila Baker is an experienced researcher and evaluator who has been working in the voluntary sector for twenty years, starting out as a volunteer in homelessness hostels in London and Oxford and later managing and commissioning research for Shelter. Leila has worked as a volunteer, practitioner and trustee as well as researcher with a wide variety of small voluntary and community organisations, local authorities and housing associations as well as national charities and think tanks.

References in this blog are from a review of the evidence by Professor Miranda Wolpert MBE created to help BBC Children in Need shape this programme.

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