Halifax mum whose 10-year-old has attempted suicide launches campaign for specialist mental health school in Calderdale

A desperate Halifax mum whose 10-year-old son has been battling mental health issues for four years is pleading for more help for children like hers.

By sarah fitton
Wednesday, 29th June 2022, 12:24 pm

Gemma Passmore, from Illingworth, says young Alfie's mental health has deteriorated because he has not had access to the right help.

He has been trying to harm himself, even attempting suicide on one occasion.

She has launched a campaign urging Calderdale Council to speed up plans for a dedicated social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) school to help children like Alfie.

Gemma Passmore is pleading for help for children like her son in Calderdale

She said: "Alfie asks me 'why isn't anyone helping me?'

"I don't want to be in the position where I'm launching a petition when my son is no longer here - that's the extreme I fear it would get to.

"We can't lose any more kids in Calderdale."

The council is looking into creating a specialist school for primary and secondary-aged children with dedicated social, emotional and mental health support in North Halifax.

But Gemma says the situation is urgent.

As well as launching a petition - which has already gained more than 200 signatures - she has contacted all of Calderdale's schools asking for their support, and she says she has had a positive response.

Alfie - one of Gemma's four sons - was six when he started having problems at school. He did not want to go, was suffering from anxiety attacks and other issues that eventually resulted in many hospital admissions and full time exclusion from his mainstream school.

"Alfie was put into a pupil referral unit which soon became apparent was not at all suitable for him," said Gemma.

"This has lead on to so many problems for me and my family, for example not being able to go out to full-time work as we have been basically on-call for the last three years as Alfie could be sent home within 10 minutes of arriving at school.

"Worst of all, this has had a detrimental affect on Alfie's mental wellbeing as he is not in the nurturing environment he needs and has led to Alfie trying to take his own life once while at home and, on a number of occasions, trying to physically harm himself at school."

Alfie received an education, health and care plan, which outlines his challenges and the help required, in November of 2021 but so far he has still not been given a place at school able to offer the support he needs to learn.

Gemma said: "A large number of Calderdale children have to travel well out of area due to lack of our own provisions, which sometimes leads to travel for young children of up to an hour-and-a-half every morning, and again on an evening.

"The number of Calderdale children with with plans has risen by 21 percent in the last two years. Requests for assessments have increased from 15 to 20 per month in early 2020 to 25 to 30 in 2021 to 2022. Yorkshire is amongst the highest places in the UK for suicide.

"I believe that by building a school for some of our most vulnerable children in Calderdale we would be helping to give them nurturing, caring, affordable education and also easing the pressure on all of the parents fighting in Calderdale at this moment in time just trying to get what there children are legally entitled too - a safe, secure, nurturing education.

Councillor Adam Wilkinson, Calderdale Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Young People’s Services, said: “We want all Calderdale young people to have the opportunity to thrive, access the right support and achieve their best. We take all concerns very seriously and are working closely with the Pupil Referral Unit.

“We have an outreach team that works with students with additional needs, to help them re-enter mainstream schools wherever possible.

"Calderdale’s mainstream schools have dedicated mental health support leads who have been trained to work with young people experiencing mental health issues. We also commission some additional resource provisions for pupils with additional needs in mainstream schools, and are looking to secure more of these places in the next academic year.

“For pupils with an Education Health and Care Plan, our Special Educational Needs and Disabilities team considers the appropriate educational setting to meet the young person’s needs. We have close to a 100 per cent success rate in completing these assessments within the required 20 weeks, compared to the 56 per cent national average.

“A feasibility study is underway on the proposal to develop a through (primary and secondary) specialist provision school, including dedicated social, emotional and mental health support, in North Halifax where there is currently no such provision.

"The Department for Education has recently notified councils of the opportunity to establish new special/alternative provision schools, and we are also looking into this in the context of the needs of Calderdale’s children and young people.”