In one respect, I have missed my usual frequent drives round Surrey. I usually use this time to listen to a range of materials, some intellectual, some lightweight, occasionally music, to feed my brain with whatever the mood takes me. This gives me a buffer between work and home, space to wind up and wind down. It also gives me an opportunity to learn and be exposed to new ideas. One of my favourite sources of inspiration is Matthew Syed, who has written several excellent books.
Since lockdown, I have not managed to fit in my usual diet of ideas and growth mindset podcasts. Between giving the children quality time, trying to get a reasonable amount of exercise and being tired after long periods videoconferencing, my brain has had enough by the end of the day.
However, I realised that this is not serving me and on Saturday I chose to go on a solitary walk for my exercise and I carried on listening to the audiobook of Matthew Syed’s Rebel ideas. The book contains the best explanation of why and how diversity is important that I have come across. He does not start with the premise that diversity is good, indeed for simple problems he argues that diversity is often not good (the men’s 100 metre final in the Olympics being a good case in point). However complex problems require diversity of thought and that comes from diversity of culture and experience. The best ideas, the best solutions, will come through a range of different people with different experiences working together.
This has direct translation into the work that Surrey Youth Focus is supporting around the re-procurement of Children’s Emotional Well being and Mental Health services in Surrey. If ever there was a complex problem, mental health is it. The mental well being of any one person is a result of a complex mix of upbringing, culture, societal influences, life experiences, social interactions and more.
At Surrey Youth Focus, we have long been believed that young people who are struggling would benefit hugely from more social solutions, many led by the third sector. (Note: I deliberately don’t use the term “services” because services tends to imply a narrow range of professional led work such as counselling, whereas solutions are much wider – peer support, whole school approaches, social movements, encouraging participation in arts and sports, etc).
However, it has gradually become clearer to me the importance of joint creativity around the future use of the money spent on mental health. We will get the best results if we work with a much more diverse group with different perspectives on emotional health understand the societal root of the issues and to generate new solutions. Young people, parents, commissioners, teachers, school nurses, psychiatrists, police, social workers and of course the third sector…to name just a few.
Together, we are so much stronger. But we need to find a way to throw off the baggage of the past - the silos, the overstrong faith in medical solutions, doing "to" young people rather than with them. We need to start with a clean sheet of paper and be creative together, painting a brand new vision of how to create a culture in our schools, our communities, our charities and our medical providers that enable every child and young person to thrive. The signs of change are afoot. There are some very strong cross-sector relationships being built, that will, I hope, lead to a very different way of serving our young people.