Programme helps needy youngsters

SMILES will be broadening among the borough's most vulnerable children as a groundbreaking programme piloted in South Tyneside expands.

The UK Resilience Programme, aimed at giving youngsters skills to cope with modern life, sees specially-trained staff delivering lessons aimed at building self-esteem, helping children cope with negative peer pressure, and even teaching them relaxation and negotiation techniques.

During the past two years, South Tyneside Council has trained and supported teachers, delivering the programme to Year 7 pupils in eight of its nine secondary schools, and is now rolling it out to services and organisations that work with vulnerable children and young people.

Coun Jim Foreman, lead member for children and young people, said: "It is extremely important we build resilience and confidence in our youngsters so they can face the challenges of life.

"This programme is about equipping them with the skills they need to cope with the difficulties they encounter.

"For the last two years, we have been running the programme in our secondary schools, and the results so far have been very encouraging indeed."

The programme is the brainchild of Dr Martin Seligman, a US expert in positive psychology, and was developed at the University of Pennsylvania.

The council recently arranged for 42 more staff to be trained in delivering the programme, taking the total number of trained workers in the borough to 93.

And alongside the usual intake of school staff in the latest training group, were people who work at children's homes, social services, Connexions and the Key Project as well as support services for children with disabilities and those with substance misuse and mental health

issues.

The two-week training course took place in the new conference facilities at The Dunes, South Shields, and was led by a master trainer and trainer from the University of Pennsylvania.

Coun Foreman added: "The recent training course means we have almost doubled the number of staff who are qualified to deliver the programme.

"Thanks to this extra capacity we can not only build on the work we are doing in classrooms, but begin targeted work in areas where it can really make a positive difference to children who are facing big challenges in their lives. The expansion of the programme will begin in September."