Critical friend helps Oxleas hear young people's voices

Erin Wright, Regional VIK Support Worker for YoungMinds
Erin Wright, Regional VIK Support Worker for YoungMinds who is working with our child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS)

Erin Wright is one of YoungMinds' nine Regional VIK Support Workers and is working with our child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) to improve the experience of the young people using these services. She is passionate about helping young people to get their voices heard and involve them in services.

Erin told us: "There has been a really slow movement in CAMHS over the last 10 years towards user involvement but they are generally 10-20 years behind adult services. When young people are involved in services they engage with their treatment and society more meaning better outcomes for them and for the service."

The VIK in Erin's job title stands for Very Important Kids, which is a key YoungMinds initiative. Erin told us there are two overarching aims of VIK: "Supporting young people so they get their voice heard around mental health and working directly with CAMHS services to help them achieve meaningful participation by young people in those services." She continues "VIK is all about mental health, not mental illness. We support young people to campaign about issues that affect them, to tell their stories and to access CAMHS services and complain if they are not happy." Recently the VIK group produced State of Mind - Young Londoners' Manifesto for Mental Health

Erin has been working with Oxleas as she describes "from a distance" for the last 18 months but has recently started working at the trust for a dedicated day a week. She is coordinating several projects which she hopes will continue when that dedicated time ends in just under a year's time. These include:

  • working with Bexley CAMHS to develop systems for capturing and learning from the experience of the people using the service. Young people will be involved in staff recruitment, training and even commissioning of services.
  • a fortnightly group for young people in an innovative collaboration with Greenwich and Lewisham Young People's Theatre (GLYPT) 
  • working with Greenwich CAMHS as they establish a new Increasing Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT) service for young people. This involves monitoring of sessions,  developing games and activities to get feedback from children under eight years old and also running training and focus groups with parents.

Originally from Bristol but living in Tooting Erin has worked for YoungMinds for just over two years and has a wealth of experience for someone aged just 25. She has previously worked for Lambeth Voluntary Action Council and has Chaired the national youth-led charity YouthBank UK. She also completed a psychology degree at Brighton University.

Her time here so far has been positive. Erin: "I am really enjoying it so far. It has been great to get to know everybody. I have realised that that usually clinicians and patients want exactly the same things. In Oxleas CAMHS there are really hard working people who have gone through lots of change. They are experiencing hard times professionally and also the impact the economic hard times are having on the people they work with. Understandably people can be anxious about my role. They assume I will be judgemental but once I get to know them they soon get over that and it is much easier to be a critical friend."

She continues: "My role here is an exciting opportunity to do things differently, challenging tradition and challenging formality. Participation and collaboration are key. If you want the best outcome for someone you can't know what it is unless you talk to them. There is a real desire for that amongst clinicians here and many are already working in this way." 

Published on 16th March 2012