Parents outraged as Chingford school axes therapist position

Parents are deeply concerned after finding out a “therapeutic school” in Chingford is losing its in-school therapist role.

Hawkswood Therapeutic School on Antlers Hill caters for children with issues such as mental health problems, trauma or conditions like autism.

Parents were informed by the school last week that a decision had been made to remove the position at the end of this term.

The North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT) insists there will be “a new service model” next year to ensure a “robust offer” for the school.

But campaign group Save Therapy at Hawkswood says it is “hard to overstate how much harm will be done if the therapist isn’t there” and is considering a judicial review.

Ali Harris, who is the mother of a 12-year-old student, said: “For some of the children just to get in the building is a big challenge.

“Staff in other schools have not been able to engage with these children but (the therapist) has the ability to really find a way to talk with them.

“(My son) has got a brilliant, funny sense of humour and now that’s coming back. It feels like we have got him back again.

“Every step has been slow and painstaking. It takes skill to support that and he has still got a long way to go.

In a letter to NELFT, she explained the therapist helped her son go from “cowering in the corner, overcome by anxiety and unable to look at or talk to anyone, to regaining some of the confidence he had lost”.

She added: “It seems the proposal to withdraw or reduce the service is purely about saving money in the Hawkswood Secondary Therapeutic School.

“It is impossible that the students’ needs have reduced – and in fact in many instances the impact of Covid-19 will have increased their needs.”

NELFT integrated care director Sue Boon said: “We understand how important our mental health practitioner’s role has been to the school and this change may be causing concern to the children, young people and their families, but we are committed to ensuring they get the support they need.

“We have worked with the school and the local authority to agree a new service model to ensure there is a robust offer in place for the new school year, and we’ll be sharing the details with the school community in the next few days.”

She added that the school would still have “access to a specialist Children and Young People’s Mental Health Service (CAMHS) support model from September”, although did not elaborate on what form this will take.

When contacted for comment, a Waltham Forest Council spokesperson said the role was arranged between the school and NELFT and that the council was not involved.

The school was contacted for comment but has not responded.

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter