Red Balloon

Supporting young people who are severely bullied

It is my pleasure as part of anti bullying week to write a blog post about Red Balloon for Family Lives. The theme is one that our charity Red Balloon, completely supports; “Let’s stop bullying for all!”

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Red Balloon is a charity that was started nearly 20 years ago to help young people who cannot attend school due to severe bullying. Since then we have worked with many young people who are too anxious, distressed or upset to attend school. This anxiety can occur for many reasons, what our students have in common is that they feel too unsafe, frightened and uncertain to attend mainstream school and/or to leave their homes which have become their refuge. These teenagers need a place where they can be supported, encouraged and helped to overcome the barriers they face, through no fault of their own, to access the world around them. Red Balloon seeks to be that place. We help young people to build strong relationships with adults and peers whom they can trust, whilst engaging them in meaningful educational and therapeutic activities which help restore confidence and give a sense of achievement.

Interestingly that place may not always be a physical space. We do have four centres in Cambridge, Norwich, Reading and North West London, but we also have a virtual centre, Red Balloon of the Air, which I manage. Red Balloon of the Air seeks to use technology and the internet to reach out to students across the country who are isolated geographically, cannot access a centre locally, or who have mental or physical barriers to leaving the home.  By providing a computer, we can build relationship with students online, teach online classes, offer online therapy and help students recover in ways they wouldn’t have thought possible.

Our students come to us when, for whatever reason, attending a mainstream school is not an option. The young people we work with are not ‘naughty’, they are not ‘simply misbehaving’, they are those who because of bullying, or other traumas are unable to attend school. In our experience schools and local authorities have often worked hard to try and accommodate a students needs, and sometimes this works for a time, but at other times these attempts fail and this is when we can work with schools to help provide suitable provision for young people, which they can access.

One of our mothers Sheila writes the following about her experience with Red Balloon of the Air:

“My son coped with primary school quite well and is a very academic, bright, moral, quiet and sensitive boy. I have been told on numerous occasions by his teachers that he is a pleasure to teach. The problems started with his transition to comprehensive school. I would meet him from school and more often than not he would be in floods of tears or very withdrawn. At the time I put it down to him adjusting to a new much bigger school and kept telling him that things would settle down. Things escalated very quickly and he would come out of school and ask when the bullying would stop. Incidents were happening numerous times a day and I was in school practically every day trying to sort things out with staff who tried to put procedures in place that were ineffective. After 3 months I received a phone call from school asking me to come and pick my son up as he was so distraught that they didn't know what to do with him. He never returned after that day.

My son became more isolated and withdrawn and would stay in his room with the blind down, he hardly slept and was having constant panic attacks and self-harming, he didn't leave the house or his bedroom and as a family we just didn't know what to do for the best. I tried to get help from CAMHS and the child mental health services but my son was very quickly signed off the books. 

It took my son 9 months to be able to tell me about the extent of the bullying and what dreadful things had happened. Red Balloon of the Air has been the perfect environment for my son to be able to start communicating with others. Because it is online he has been able to re-engage in learning without the fear of doing it face to face. Red Balloon of the Air has been within his boundaries of what he was able to cope with. The fact that there was someone that understood what we were going through was such a huge relief.

There have been many changes since my son started at RBAir - all positive. He is much calmer and happier. He has far fewer meltdowns and panic attacks, he's gained confidence. One of the biggest and best changes is seeing my child smile again, for a very long time I didn't think this would ever happen.”

It is a pleasure working with young people like Sheila’s son. We wish for a world without bullying and without mental illness. In the meantime, Red Balloon strives to be a safe place for young people who are too anxious to access the world around them, whether that’s in person in Norwich, Cambridge, Reading or North West London, or online at Red Balloon of the Air.

To contact Red Balloon see our website: http://redballoonlearner.co.uk/. Or you can call us on 01223 366052 and you can find us on Twitter at @RedBalloonLCG  or @RBoftheAir

 

Christine Perkins
Coordinator, Red Balloon of the Air

 

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