Supporting you people to stay healthy and well

An interview with Sue Dafter, Weymouth College Head of Student Services and Deputy Designated Safeguarding Lead

In November 2023, we spoke to Sue about the wide range of support provided by the college to help students stay healthy and well. We also asked her about her experience of working with other services, to highlight where things might be done differently to make sure young people get the care and support they need.

What does your working role at Weymouth College involve?

My role very much involves safeguarding, welfare and wellbeing of students. I line manage the Safeguarding Team, the Counselling Team, Student Financial Bursaries, the Careers Team and the team that deliver the Re-engagement Programme.

What type of support do you provide to the students?

Statutory services and support

I provide quite a broad spectrum of support. Our Principal quite often tells people that she compares us to a smaller version of Children’s Services. We have a designated teacher within the team for looked after children who attends any meeting relevant to statutory support. We have many students with statutory support needs and all of us will attend those meetings at some point when required; we aim to make sure that there’s always one of our team present. We attend all of the youth at risk meetings so that we’re kept very much up to date with current risks to any of our students and the risks around locations.

Mental health and emotional wellbeing

One of the things we work mostly on with students is mental health, so through mentoring mental health, we have an ELSA who is the Emotional Literacy Support Assistant. The ELSA has a lot of resources and a toolkit up her sleeve as well, although the training is only aimed at secondary school children, so some of it is deemed to be a little bit younger than the age that we would require. We also have a member of staff who is experienced and qualified within mental health, so she also mentors a lot of the young people who come to us with struggling with their mental health. As there’s no age limit on mental health mentoring, we can sometimes find ourselves mentoring somebody in their 40s, as we have higher education here as well as further education and therefore some of those students are older.

We also offer counselling here, so we can provide support with just about anything. There is a bit more of a wait for counselling than there used to be, but it’s certainly not as long as if they went through their GP. We often have students or parents who tell us that their GP has advised them to speak to the college because they’ll get a much faster counselling referral. We are very fortunate to have counselling who are able to cover most issues.

Housing and homelessness

Very often, with the over 25s, we offer support around housing. For example, when somebody comes to us and tells us that they’re about to be kicked out of their housing, or they’re in a situation where they’re currently sofa surfing and they’ve been told that they need to move on, we will support them by contacting local agencies to find somewhere for them to live. If they’re under 18, then we would refer to statutory services.

Keeping students safe

On a regular basis we pick up safeguarding referrals that come directly from the students. They will talk to us about an issue that they’re possibly experiencing either at home or more contextually outside of the home, and we’ll then do a CHaD (Children’s Advice and Duty Service) referral and work with the safeguarding or child protection team in the Weymouth locality.

At the moment we are juggling a few sexual assault cases. That’s not necessarily where the sexual assaults have happened here, but they have happened externally and both the victim and the alleged perpetrator are here in college, so that has to be managed very carefully by the college.

Food and hygiene

If a student tells us that they’re hungry and they haven’t got any food, we have the facility to make toast or a microwave meal, and then we can help by issuing food vouchers for the Food Bank and providing them with food items we store here that we can offer in the short term. We’ve also always got toiletries, sanitary items and underwear here that we can also supply.

We might have a young person who comes to us and has hygiene issues because they live in a home where there’s not enough space for them to have a shower or bath as often as needed. In those instances, we are able to let them have a shower in the gym and provide them with a towel, toiletries and clean underwear.

Student Social Worker

We have a Student Social Worker who comes to us from Southampton Solent or Bournemouth University, and the work they’re able to do while they are here on placement delves quite deeply into issues that the young person may have and the cause of an issue that they may find themselves in. There’s very little that somebody would ever be able to come and tell us that this team wouldn’t be able to help with.

Peer support

Anxiety is very high on the agenda, so at the beginning of term a lot of the young people will be met at the front entrance and be accompanied to their classrooms. Linked to this, we have a small group of peer mentors who are able to work with and support students. Some of the peer mentors go on to do a degree with us here at the college, so they might be a bit older but working with somebody under the age of 18, who they can relate to and that’s a really nice support that we’re able to give.

What are the key issues that students raise concerns about?

There have sadly been a few local suicides that have had a big impact on some of the students and there has been a lot of concern around that. Sexual health is also a key issue, so we offer support around sexual health and have trained staff who can safely issue condoms and offer advice around the risks associated with having unprotected sex.

Some of the students won’t know the pitfalls of going out in a town like Weymouth. They’ll be used to perhaps going out in Beaminster, Maiden Newton, or somewhere like that, and it won’t be the same. Because of this, I’m running awareness raising sessions in the canteen at lunchtimes leading up to the Christmas period. We have sexual health, the street pastors, the police, domestic abuse, Pineapple Project and the Weymouth Police Walk and Talk team, booked to come in and provide information and advice. I have also invited drug and alcohol services to talk and offer advice around binge drinking.

What are the biggest barriers that inhibit your support to the students?

It’s not always health related, there are things that relate to Children’s Services and safeguarding that we see as a bit of a barrier.

Referring to services is sometimes challenging. CAMHS offer Tier 3 support and I appreciate that not every student will meet Tier 3 criteria, but there are instances when we feel that a particular student would more than meet Tier 3, and yet we’re unable to make that referral. That might just be because of their age because they’re 17 and they’re almost going to be going over to adult services.

There are other instances when a student has been offered CAMHS but perhaps has not fully engaged or they’ve not wished to engage previously and then they’re no longer able to access that service now. Sometimes accessing support is a major issue for somebody who has really severe mental health issues and anxiety and has not been attending school. It would be hard for an adult, so it’s definitely going to be hard for a 16/17-year-old, but then we get a letter to say those services are closed to them now because they’ve not been accessing the support they’ve been offered. One of our counsellors goes out to visit a young person who can’t come in, we provide a risk assessed home visit.

What changes would make a big difference to your role and the support that you would like to provide?

It would massively help me if we could get sexual health services to come in to college and run say three sessions over a day when we have 200 students in. More importantly, it would be a huge help if sexual health would equip college staff members with training, for example by providing us with their PowerPoint presentation, because they would be supporting the learning facilitators to be able to confidently deliver a really first-class presentation that’s been put together by the sexual health team. They do come in and work with some of the students with learning difficulties, who we quite often have concerns about, but it would be good if this was rolled out to all the students.

We do have Paragon who come in and talk to students about consent and the fact that they could potentially get into trouble, and to remind them of what a healthy relationship looks like and what to do if or when a relationship turns unhealthy.

Are there any services that you’re currently working with that assist you well?

We do work well with CAMHS, we have a lovely relationship with them so I would never ever want to criticise them. I always feel very defensive when I read things about people criticising them, but I do feel that on occasions they could think outside of the box a bit more with regard to engaging the children and young people they work with.

We also work well with the Sexual Health Team, Children’s Services, the Early Help Team, the locality team and the CHaD Team.

We have a designated person from the Early Help Team for the college, and that person comes in all day on a Wednesday with spends time with us in the office if we have concerns to chat through. They’re also able to offer a drop-in service, which young people can attend alone or with a parent, to access the early health support. We can refer into that service and they can refer people to us, so that works exceptionally well.

Also, over the years we have worked a lot with STARS and have developed an excellent working relationship with them, but that does very much depend on where their funding is focused and funding opportunities. I find that with all services, sometimes their focus changes if their funding focus and priorities change.


Read our other interviews with Weymouth College staff

  • Kristy Reid, Safeguarding Officer
  • Nola Smith, NEET Re-engagement Manager, and part of Student Services and the Safeguarding Team

Get in touch

For more information about local services and support or to share your feedback about young people’s mental health services in Dorset, please get in touch:

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