Acorn Lodge: providing vital services for children with mental health disorders
One of only eight psychiatric care centres for children in the country, staff members talk about this extraordinary place
‘People have lots of preconceptions about what they might find at Acorn Lodge,’ says ward manager Gillene Thomas. ‘After all, it’s a psychiatric care unit for children. But when they come and see us, they’re usually pleasantly surprised.’
Situated at the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Bromley, Acorn Lodge is bright, airy and child-friendly. It provides local services, but also for children as far away as Cornwall.
‘We offer admission to a wide range of children, aged between five and 13,’ explains Gillene. ‘They might have emotional or behavioural problems, but we also have children with psychosis, anxiety, developmental disorders and children on the autistic spectrum.’
Children come to the Lodge for intensive treatment, usually involving psychological work, special education and sometimes medication.
‘We also work very closely with the families and communities to resolve some of the difficulties the children have and re-integrate them back into the community,’ says Dr Marios Kyriakopoulos, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist.
‘We want to identify their needs, improve their function, treat them as best we can and identify the type of intervention that would be most effective.’
Only 10 children stay at the lodge at any one time. Each child has his or her own room. During their stay, they attend the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School, working in small groups and following the national curriculum, which helps minimise any disruption to their education.
In their spare time, children have film nights, local excursions, cooking clubs and even a part-time pet with a Pets As Therapy dog visiting every Thursday.
The lodge has also introduced new ways of caring for its patients which, staff hope, will help make their treatment more effective.
‘We decided to try out emergency admissions, which were previously unheard of in child mental health,’ explains Gillene. ‘Historically, a child would only be admitted after a pre-admission assessment beforehand. But families were feeding back that they would benefit from a prompt response.’
It’s been a successful change, and recent evaluation found that families were happier with this way of doing things.
Acorn Lodge is also trialling community outreach work – for example, sending staff to directly support children while they are in school, or doing home visits. As Gillene says: ‘We’re constantly changing to be responsive to needs.’
Mental health affects people of all ages; you can help support life changing services like those provided at Acorn Lodge by calling 020 7848 7454 or getting involved in one of our events.