The Work of MBS

What we do at The Mulberry Bush School

Please take a few minutes to listen to a former pupil who attended The Mulberry Bush School back in 1951 to find out a bit more about what it is that we have been providing for more than 70 years.

What is it like and what do we do?

We are very lucky to have a world class site which the charity owns.

The site is in rural Oxfordshire and provides a safe environment which is rich in the range of opportunities it provides for the children. Visitors often comment on the feeling of calm across the site. It is rare to hear a raised adult voice, even when children are distressed.

On arrival our reception team provide a warm welcome, we know first impressions are important. Safeguarding is very important to us and so visitors ID will be checked.

There are plenty of examples of the children’s outstanding work to see as you walk around the school and we know from experience that our children are our best advocates, so it is usual for children to show visitors round. The Thames class (our top class) and the school council most often fulfil this role and thoroughly enjoy it, giving visitors their own version of how he school runs and helps the children and their families. The children demonstrate the many of the qualities we value, they are: polite, thoughtful, open, honest, insightful and fair. Visitors are often surprised by how able the children are – we are not as high expectations are important.

For the children, we provide a carefully planned and structured environment. Although the routine can appear relaxed and informal, it is highly structured. This predictability in expectations of the daily routine helps the children engage with one another and the staff in purposeful activity. Within this uniform structure of group activity, the experience for each child is carefully thought about and adaptations are made to the provision in order to meet their individual needs.

This adaptation to need looks to ensure that children feel emotionally held and understood. Each child has a treatment team from their first day. The Treatment Team is a group of staff; their household manager, their teacher, their key worker, their family worker and a therapist, whose responsibility it is to meet regularly, manage the child’s Integrated Treatment Plan and ensure the broader staff team are kept in touch with the treatment plan and its objectives.

The households at the school are intended to be homely but not home. We know all children have a home to go to for the weekends and school holiday’s and so there is a balance to be struck ensuring the houses provide a homely environment that is high quality, stimulating, resilient and task focused without being institutional.

Our classrooms are well resourced suites of rooms providing all the facilities needed (IT, kitchens, toilets, smart boards) to ensure children don’t have unnecessary transitions from one space to another. They also have an outdoor play space that provides a contained area to let off steam at playtimes. The classroom environment are planned to provide a progression from the Windrush and Evenlode classes – our foundation stage classes, where children start their class based learning at The Mulberry Bush. These classes are about engaging the children in enjoying learning again, as very often their experiences have school have not been positive ones. They are a non – threatening environment, where there is lots of play and learning can be fun.

Children move onto our middle and top stage classes as they are able to work more independently with Thames the top stage providing a more main stream type experience. Children can spend time in two local primary schools if they are ready. Children might have individual therapy or be in a therapy group during the day. These thing are common place for children at the Bush and the idea that ‘different children need different things at different times’ is valued and understood by staff and children alike. Consequently children do not feel embarrassed or singled out amongst their peers by these additional provisions.

The reality for the children referred to the Bush and their families is that it can be a fun, stimulating place in which they can feel understood and emotionally held. We hope that this experience makes those occasions when we are more challenging of the children and families, tackling difficult life experiences and exploring those things that are hard to talk about, more bearable. Coping with the challenges, surviving the difficult feelings together and then finding ways forward– also together.

Who do we work with and what are the children like?

To give parents / carers or professionals an idea of whether their child may “match” the type of children we try to help, we have developed the following list. We hope it will aid the important thinking and decision-making that is done when considering sending their child to the Mulberry Bush. The children we help come to us with a wide range of needs and a variety of diagnoses. Many of the children can broadly be described as having an attachment disorder of some kind while other diagnoses may include Attachment Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Complex Trauma or Developmental Trauma Disorder. The following list is designed to provide straightforward information for those who are thinking about referring a child to us. It describes some of the behaviours that children are likely to display (although not necessarily all at the same time).   While this list focuses on difficulty it is important to note that children placed with us also have many positive qualities which we look to nurture and make more dominant features of their personalities.

  • Attachment difficulties can cause a child to struggle with relationships with their family, friends and important people in their lives. They can often find it difficult to develop meaningful relationships with others.
  • A lack of empathy means that a child finds it difficult to understand the feelings of others or to take other people’s feelings into consideration.
  • Children with an imbalance between dependency and independence will either be over reliant on other people or will try to be prematurely or excessively “non-dependent”.
  • If a child has experienced conscience development delay they are likely to have little understanding of their effect on others. Many of the children placed with us experience deeply and intensely felt and expressed sadness. At these times they will struggle to engage with others or will absent themselves from groups.
  • A further symptom might be a child’s very limited capacity to tolerate frustration, which can result in high levels of aggressive behaviour.
  • A child placed with us often seeks total control over many situations. This might be evident through constant arguments over rules and structures or a rigid reliance on them.
  • It is also possible that a child denies any responsibility for situations they might have some responsibility for.
  • Commonly, the children we work with experience difficulties expressing their feelings other than through behaviour breakdown. They struggle to talk about their feelings and let others know through extremes in their behaviour.
  • There is likely to be a variety of school learning difficulties which might include poor attention, an inability to learn from experience, destroying school work or general low levels of achievement. Essentially, their emotional problems present barriers to successful learning.
  • Low self-esteem is another common trait. Children might be reluctant to show the work that they have produced or try new experiences. As they do not feel good about themselves they will avoid appropriate risk-taking as it may result in what they perceive as “getting it wrong”. They may also repeat negative patterns of behaviour to avoid the risk of change and experiencing the unknown.
  • There are times when a child at Mulberry Bush School will display sexually inappropriate behaviour. This can include sexually explicit language, gestures and inappropriate touch which cause others to feel uncomfortable.
  • Some children may wet or soil themselves when ordinarily at their age they would be “toilet trained”. The medical term for this is enuresis (wetting) and encopresis (soiling).
  • It is common that a child will easily induce high levels of anxiety in others. They make people around them feel very worried either by putting themselves and others in danger, by threatening violence or damaging property. They often have a sense of unpredictability and being out of control.
  • In addition to the behaviours described above, a child referred to us also may have been prescribed behaviour modification medication. Although there may have been some change in the child’s behaviour at first, the effects of the medication seems to be less pronounced over time.

Children rarely exhibit all these features and even the child who demonstrates many does not usually do so to a high degree all the time. Additionally, there are almost always a number of positive features about a child who causes such great concern. Many of the children referred to the Mulberry Bush School can be loving and lovable. At times the children can be genuinely and movingly open about their difficulties and fears as well as being concerned about others. We would not wish the child to lose these capacities which may serve them well. We work to develop and increase the occasions when such positive qualities are genuinely present.

How much progress do children make?

As confirmed by our recent Ofsted inspections, children make outstanding progress in all areas; academic attainment and achievement, socially and emotionally and in their safety and health. We have a great belief in the value and quality of our work. We believe that this stems from the theoretical base which we use to underpin our approach to working with some of the country’s most troubled children. We are also aware that in order to justify a placement in terms of costs and placing a child out of county there needs to be ‘hard evidence’ that our approach will work. We monitor very carefully how each child is progressing and can track the changes in a child over the course of their placement. These figures are compiled to give us an overall picture of the highly successful approach of the school. Our experience and data over the years demonstrates that many children once they feel safe at the Mulberry Bush School make good and sometimes outstanding progress in English, Mathematics and Social and Emotional Development.

Important Note: For some of our children – their experience of instability, trauma and abuse means that a period of stability without areas of identified achievement, but without major acting out; allowing adults to look after them can be real and important progress. For some children the trauma in their lives outside sadly is ongoing.

How we do it?


The Mulberry Bush Approach

Since its founding in 1948, the School has used psychodynamic theory to underpin its policy and practice. The School has remained flexible to the different demands of Government direction and policy, adapting the organisations policies, procedures and its practice whilst maintaining and reflecting the value it places on its psychodynamic culture. At the Mulberry Bush Organisation we believe that to effectively understand, educate and treat children who display challenging and disturbing behaviours, we need to be reflective practitioners, highly attuned to the communication and needs of children. Through our understanding of their verbal and non-verbal communication we can adapt our work and the environment to better meet their needs. Through meeting the needs of children we provide an environment in which they feel safe, understood and able to engage in learning, socially, emotionally and academically. The organisation plays an important role in structuring the environment to enable this to happen.

Three Core Principles

The organisation has three core principles that underpin its therapeutic work:

  • Staff need a good psychodynamic understanding to provide an informed psychodynamic approach
  • The development of a reflective culture at all levels and in all disciplines is paramount
  • Collaborative working is central to a high quality treatment environment

Psychodynamic Approach

The key value that underscores all the work is the use of Psychodynamic Theory. The term psychodynamic comes from Freud’s work on understanding the unconscious; it is used to try and describe the internal psychic conflict that goes on inside all of us that sometimes results in unwanted behaviours. The work of psychotherapists and those who work in a psychodynamic way is to try and change the person from within, that is to see the behaviours as symptoms of the inner conflicts and to try and address the causes of the symptoms rather than to rectify the behaviours. “Symptoms…could be viewed afresh as meaningful communications about inner states of conflict.” (Bateman. A et al, 2000: 9) This approach is used to understand children’s behaviours as communications of unmet needs. The Mulberry Bush School was founded by Barbara Dockar-Drysdale (1948) (later a child psychotherapist), and she worked closely with the influential psychotherapist Donald Winnicott (1964) who in his work highlighted the importance of the early relationship that develops between a child and its mother. Much of the work of the school is based on Winnicott’s idea that the failure of some infants to fully integrate (when this relationship does not or cannot develop successfully) is at the root of many of the children’s problems. The school also uses the Attachment Theory that Bowlby developed which looks at attachment behaviour patterns in children that result from early attachment experiences with their primary carer. These patterns in turn are linked closely to Winnicott’s concepts of the importance of early primary experiences. We find systems theory helpful in our work with children and their families. It is through the examination of the communication that children present through their behaviour that themes begin to emerge and their underlying needs can be identified. The school then works to meet those needs as part of the treatment through the children having individual treatment plans that are reviewed and adjusted on a regular basis.

Reflective Culture

The effect of working with very disturbed children is pronounced following the psychodynamic approach. The staff group is subjected to projections and transference on a daily basis and on occasion they may also experience projective-identification. The emotional impact is considerable, and it is only through a high level of mutual support acknowledging and understanding these processes that staff are able to continue working effectively. It is through meeting regularly in teams and identified groups (for group supervision and consultation) that the impact of the work can be shared and thought about. These meetings (with teams and individual staff members) form the heart of the school’s reflective practice. Reflective practice within the school enables staff to question their own reactions and behaviors and also that of their colleagues with the aim of improving practice leading to a greater understanding of the children’s behaviour. It is through being reflective that the projections and transference can be recognised and made sense of. This reflective culture at the heart of the staff group is replicated in the life of staff with and alongside the children. This encourages children to develop reflective skills enabling them to explore and understand the impact for them of living and learning alongside one another. All staff are part of a regular, facilitated reflective group to support and facilitate the integration of this culture into all aspects of the work of the school.

Collaborative Working

The sharing of the impact of the work leads to collaborative working, but further to this the school is conscious of the potential splits between departments and teams and so tries to combat this by actively engaging in collaborative work. This takes the form of bringing together different departments to again think about the impact of working together with difficult children. Therapeutic communities are well-known for their inclusive meetings. The school has regular whole school meetings and open forums which all staff attend. The aim of this is to help the school be more open and the work more shared. One of the keys to a successful organisation is communication and often the failure to communicate effectively is at the root of poor performance. The Mulberry Bush encourages open communications at all times, paying due care to the sensitivity of those present. In practice this means being clear about the emotional state of children when handing over to different people, e.g. from the teacher to the care worker. Staff are also encouraged to openly comment on their emotional state with each other so that they can be supported and offer support. Difficult subjects are encouraged to be talked about with parents and other professionals. These three core principles are closely interlinked, and directly look after the well-being of staff and children; it is by paying careful attention to staff needs (through support structures, training and individual, team and departmental relationships) that the children’s needs can best be met. The core principles are translated into these four underlying concepts:

  1. All children use behaviour as a form of communication, especially when what they are communicating is an expression of an unconscious, unmet need and when they do not have the comprehension or words to say what they want to say.
  2. Children communicate the same thing in different ways to different people, and also different things to different people.
  3. There is an emotional impact on those experiencing these behaviours and those trying to understand them.
  4. When people who are trying to understand or who have experienced the impact of these communications come together to openly share and process their feelings about this, there is a better chance of a fuller understanding being reached, of developing effective responses, and of supporting individuals and teams with their particular struggles in working with these communications.

Group Living

Group Living is the term we use for the work of the residential households at the Mulberry Bush. There are four houses, where the children live during term time. One house is an Intake / Assessment House (Rainbow House), and all children spend up to 12 weeks in this house when they first start. This assessment period is about a gentle start to life at the Mulberry Bush and was set up following feedback from the children that the first year was the hardest. It is supporting each child to get to know us and for us to get to know them. The assessment is based on our teams experience of getting to know the child, informed by a number of assessments, some standardised and some not, that help us understand the child’s stage of emotional and social development and their needs. From this experience, we write the child’s first Integrated Treatment Plan. This plan, written by the Treatment Team, sets the foundations for our work and is developed over time, guiding all staff in how they might understand their work with the child in question.

After the assessment period children move to one of the parallel households (Pegasus, Sunset or Jigsaw). This move is carefully planned and supported. We know that transitions have been difficult for our children in the past and so need considerable support to make them feel more manageable. Children stay in their parallel house for the rest of their stay (usually three years) at the Mulberry Bush and the Household Manager of that house leads the treatment team for that child. As the term suggests, group living is the task of the households. It is about supporting the children to live with and alongside others in a social and group context. This is something that our children have not coped with in their families and schools and is the fundamental reason for their referral to us. In the households we offer them a chance to re-experience caring and clear relationships with adults and other children. The adults do this by carefully planning for each child’s needs, then using the opportunities that come with group living to give the child very clear expectations, routines and rules about how to live with and get on with others. The adults work closely alongside the children and help them understand and manage all the experiences of the day – everything from mealtimes, learning to play together, talking with one another about the joys and stresses of the day and of course through to bedtimes; often the hardest time of the day when our children are left to their own thoughts, worries and fears.

The carefully considered and planned support through these everyday experiences enable the children to discover new ways of being alongside one another creating positive attachments and finding some comfort in others ease with them. This work should not be underestimated, it takes a long time, but as the children start to make sense of this new way of living together, they gradually start to grow and change.

The children are closely supported into and throughout the education day. The therapy is this very carefully managed lived experience, with a focus throughout the experiences on the development and nurture of meaningful positive relationships. As a therapeutic school, we try to meet the children’s needs and manage their behaviour, so that they start to feel better about themselves. We help children raise their self-esteem in a number of ways. First, there is the ‘planned environment therapy’. We have to make sure on a day to day basis that children who find it hard to think and plan ahead are living in a place where the adults can provide safe routines. Then there is the therapeutic value of living together with others in households. Many of our children have found it very hard to share with others. In the households they are helped to learn and think about the needs of others and to start taking responsibility for their actions. Some children need lots of close looking after because they are still ‘little’ inside, while others are a bit more mature.

Our therapies and networks team provide individual and group therapeutic interventions for some children depending on need, and provide consultation and support to staff teams, with a therapist on all of the children’s Treatment Teams. In order to deliver and maintain this quality of provision for the children and their families, all Group Living staff study our Foundation Degree in Therapeutic Work with Children and Young People. This level 5 qualification trains staff in the theories and practices that are articulated in our Statement of Purpose and Model of Practice and helps ensure high levels of consistency and continuity in how we all understand our work and the children and so in our practice. When we carry out observations of Group Living practice we look for staff to demonstrate that:

  • The outcome of the session is extremely productive and meaningful for individuals and the group.
  • The care and treatment offered is outstanding and is individualised exceptionally well to reflect a child or group’s needs and an understanding of equality and diversity.
  • Staff demonstrate reflective practice and evaluation of practice, and strive for improvement in a timely and effective way.
  • Adults display thoughtful responses to children’s behaviour based on accurate assessments of children’s needs.
  • Individual and group needs are addressed and met.
  • Adults maintain a conscious use of themselves as part of the group dynamic.
  • The adult team is working very well together.
  • Adults provide good role modelling.
  • There is clear, consistent boundary setting.
  • There is a clear emphasis on praising good behaviour.
  • Challenging behaviour is well managed.
  • Communication between adults, and the adults and the children, is clear.
  • Children are appropriately supported to make good choices.
  • Relationships between adults and between the adults and the children are based on honesty and mutual respect.
  • The work is carried out within the agreed framework of school policy and procedure.
  • There are well planned activities.All the children’s primary needs are being met.
  • There is a high level of regard for health and safety issues.

Fun is also important and can easily become sidelined by the focus on health and safety, the risk assessment culture and need for the demonstration of progress and outcomes. All children deserve to have fun and a key part of our work is to provide safe, structured experiences in which children have fun together and with staff. Learning to relax and have fun together is a skill that many of our children have either never learned or forgotten. We provide a wide range of activities for individuals, small and large groups with the hope that we can encourage children to learn through play.

The School Nurse

The School Nurse assesses and monitors the children’s physical health and well being, ensuring that they have access to a healthy lifestyle and physical activities. The nurse provides medical attention to the children when they have sustained an injury in a safe and neutral environment. Medical advice, ordering medications, and ensuring that there is safe practice around medication administration is another part of the role. The school nurse is part of the safeguarding team within school; this includes attending weekly meetings and liaising with external professionals when needed. The school nurse also maintains regular communications between medical professionals, the school, parents and external networks to ensure that health and well being issues are communicated to the relevant parties for the individual children. In close collaboration with the Head of the Therapies and Networks Team, the school nurse liaises with the local CAMHS team.


Our curriculum places great value in helping all pupils to make good progress in their academic, social, health and emotional skills and knowledge. We recognise the fundamental importance of raising all pupils’ self-esteem, improving their attitudes towards learning, developing their view of themselves as competent learners, and preparing them for their next stage of education and life. Children are placed at the Mulberry Bush School due to their social, emotional and behaviour difficulties. The placement of a child at the Mulberry Bush provides an holistic, integrated approach to their education and care. In order for all children to make the best possible progress our curriculum planning provides focused teaching within the school day, and then lots of opportunities within the residential experience for extension, generalisation and practice of this learning. Together this creates a 24 hour curriculum approach.

Teaching and learning approach

The general approach we use to support teaching and learning at the Mulberry Bush is as follows: Because of their specific difficulties, children at the Mulberry Bush learn best when:

  • they feel safe and secure;
  • routines are clear;
  • expectations are consistent and boundaries clear;
  • they feel confident to take the risk to learn;
  • they have repeated experiences of success and achievement;
  • learning is characterised by consolidation, practise and revision;
  • efforts are acknowledged and achievement, however small, praised;
  • they are able to work with the appropriate amount of teacher support.

In common with all children they also learn best when:

  • the atmosphere is supportive and positive;
  • they feel interested and motivated;
  • they understand and see the relevance of the work;
  • the match of work is right;
  • they are clear about the task;
  • there is enjoyment;
  • they have the opportunity to apply their knowledge;
  • resources are appropriate and well organised;
  • they wear appropriate clothing for the task they are performing. This would include swimming costumes for swimming, P.E. kit for P.E. and aprons for cooking and art/craft work.

Because of the specific difficulties of the children at The Mulberry Bush teaching is most effective when:

  • staff teams have a good understanding of the depth of the difficulties that the children have;
  • staff teams have the ability to empathise with the children;
  • staff teams have the ability to manage and contain very strong feelings and emotions expressed by the children;
  • teachers have the ability to monitor the children’s emotional capacities at any given time, to ensure the pace of teaching meets with the potential pace of learning;
  • expectations of behaviour and academic functioning are appropriate;
  • staff teams have a high level of professional and emotional support from their colleagues;
  • staff teams adopt a consistent approach;
  • staff teams give regular feedback to the pupils.

In common with all schools teaching is also most effective when:

  • staff teams are well organised;
  • teachers understand the subject, and staff teams are well briefed;
  • lesson aims are clear;
  • learning intentions are well matched to pupils’ abilities
  • staff teams communicate clearly;
  • staff teams regularly evaluate their own work and assess the learning resulting from that teaching;
  • logical and appropriate steps in learning are planned.

Teaching is often most effective when it is delivered in small, differentiated groups led by teachers, teaching assistants or group living staff.

Core Academic Skills

Our aim is to ensure good progress in reading, writing, speaking and listening and number for all children placed at the school. For the children who arrive at the school with very depressed skills in this area good progress will mean leaving with a good level of basic skill, enabling them to access the whole curriculum and have the academic skills to function independently in ordinary daily life. For the children who arrive with average abilities progress will be about reaching their full potential.

Foundation Subjects

Our aim to provide a broad, varied and interesting experience of learning, covering all foundation subjects. Through this we aim to develop all children’s enthusiasm and interest in the world around them. We also hope that they will learn more about their own strengths and interests.

Extension Opportunities

Our aim is to provide a variety of ways in which children’s learning can be extended and reinforced beyond the classroom. Many of our children find classroom learning very challenging so this approach supports them to have alternative ways of engaging in the curriculum. You've Got Skills You’ve Got Skills is a written scheme that plans activities that cover a wide variety of curriculum areas. These are delivered predominately by care staff in the evenings and at weekends. When children complete each task they receive an award. Aims

  • Provide children with a structured activity base which covers a variety of skills and experiences.
  • Provides care staff with a framework and guidance to plan their contact time with children in a productive way which supports them to live and learn alongside our children.
  • Provide opportunities for relationship building through being challenged and completing tasks together.
  • Provide a record of what children have accomplished and experienced but also to identify what they may be missing out on.
  • Improve the widest range of skills and therefore self-esteem.
  • The award should be fun for children and staff.
  • Children can and should be helped to complete various aspects of the award with staff making judgments about how much support is needed but with the emphasis being on working alongside the child.

Forest Schools

Aims To give all pupils the chance to explore and experience the natural world through practical activities using the outdoors to promote confidence, independence and self-esteem. Using the varied natural resources in the woodland and the children’s interests to stimulate imaginative, creative and investigative activities. The children visit the woodland regularly throughout the year in all weathers. Principles for good Forest School practice are:

  • Forest School is a long term process with frequent and regular sessions in a local natural space. Planning, adaption, observations and reviewing are integral elements.
  • Forest School takes place in a natural environment/woodland to support the development of a relationship with the natural world.
  • Forest School aims to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners.
  • Forest School builds on an individual’s innate motivation and positive attitude to learning, offering them opportunities to take supported risks appropriate to the environment.
  • Forest School is run by qualified Forest School Practitioners who continuously develop their professional practice.
  • Forest School uses a range of learner centred processes to create a community for development and learning.

P.A.W.S (Play Adventure Wilderness Skills)P.A.W.S. (Play Adventure Wilderness Skills)

PAWS is an activity that is designed as a natural progression from our Forest School experience and is aimed at the children in Thames class. Taking the children out into the countryside and expands on what they have already learnt in Forest School, teaching them a range of skills. The learning is connected with walking in the countryside and learning about the outdoors, leading to small expeditions that gain in stature over the course of the term. We also cover parts of the curriculum that are relevant to the outdoors. Maths, geography and science are the key areas but other areas such as History also appear when we are away from the school. Paws also links in with the “You’ve Got Skills” programme. As well as learning how to read a map and navigate by it, the children also learn about equipment, correct food for the activities, safety, climbing, compass reading, emergency shelter building, the environment, wildlife and a wide range of skills that are relevant to the outdoors, while having fun on the way. The children learn a lot about team work through working together to achieve a common goal. Be that lighting a fire to cook on or building a shelter to escape from the weather. Their fitness levels increase over the term making the whole experience more enjoyable and giving a great sense of achievement.

Dunmore and Standlake School visits

Children who are ready to take part in a reintegration programme have the opportunity to participate in weekly visits to Dunmore and Standlake Primary Schools, local mainstream primaries. The first visit enables the child to meet up with their Pen Pal, who has been identified as a good role model. Following this short weekly trip are planned where our staff accompany children to join their pen pals in lessons. The length of these visits can be increased as required. Aims To build self-esteem and self-confidence by being able to successfully engage in mainstream school lessons.

Social Health and Emotional Growth

Underpinning all of the work we do is the support we provide to all children to develop their capacity in these important areas. We use Circle Times in class to focus on the following areas that are linked to the Emotional and Social Assessing Pupil Progress scheme (ESAPP) which we use to assess and plan across the school.

Therapies and Networks Team

The Therapies & Networks Team is a multidisciplinary team composed of child psychotherapists, a dramatherapist, music therapist, family practitioners, a speech and language therapist and the school nurse. Its aim is to help look after the therapeutic needs of the children and their families and to facilitate collaborative working with the child’s network and other professionals. The following will explain some of the ways we work with children and their families, including direct therapeutic work with children, family weekends and family consultations, and our role helping with assessments, working alongside house and class staff teams, formulating placement objectives and working with the professional network.

What role can you play?

From the start of every placement we aim to establish close communication and good working relationships with those responsible for the children’s care and wellbeing at home. In order to achieve this we promote active collaboration between families/carers and between Mulberry Bush staff and other professionals, as we have found that this maximises the therapeutic outcomes for children at the school. This can take the form of:

  • Understanding the family context; composition, dynamics and history
  • Working together to develop helpful strategies to improve relationships and behaviour
  • Achieving and maintaining therapeutic consensus throughout the child’s placement
  • Sharing relevant information that will help us work with the child

It has been our experience that families and carers know their children best and it is our aim to put that knowledge and expertise to good therapeutic use by working together with you. Sometimes families and carers may feel responsible for their children’s difficulties. We believe that most families and carers have strengths and resources that can be mobilised to solve problems and improve the quality of family life.

Where is the therapy?

The Mulberry Bush School is a Therapeutic Community. Children receive therapeutic input all through their day though their relationships with Therapeutic Care Practitioners (TCPs) and Education staff. They are helped to build healthier attachments and to find ways to talk about and reflect on their feelings and actions. All children have a therapy and story stem assessment in their first few weeks to see if other therapeutic input might be useful. These assessments also help formulate the placement objectives. For some children the focus of their time here will be the whole school therapeutic work, but for others we might recommend one of our individual therapies: music therapy, dramatherapy, psychotherapy. We also join TCPs in playtimes with children, to help understand a child’s difficulties in relationship building and communicating. Video Interaction Guidance is also offered to school staff and parents and carers as a different way to observe and understand how their child communicates. These different therapies mean we can offer a developmentally appropriate therapy that the child is able to use. For some children, talking about feelings and thoughts will be the most useful and they might have psychotherapy, but for others, especially those who have experienced difficult events at a very early age, perhaps before they could even talk, therapies that use play and other ways of  communicating, like dramatherapy and music therapy, might be more helpful. As well as working with children directly, all children have a therapist on their Treatment Team, and our psychotherapists also work closely with the houses and classes.

How do we support families?

Family Weekends

Sometimes, a family may come to do some family work with their child and stay at the school over the course of a weekend. This work can also sometimes happen in the family home rather than at the school. This more intensive work aims to help improve relationships for the whole family by enabling them to find new solutions to longstanding difficulties through playful family activities. Although families who have been involved in this work find it demanding, they also find it very rewarding.

At other times, we have invited a group of families to spend two nights (Friday – Sunday afternoon) at the school where we offer a variety of activities for the whole family, including children who are not at The Mulberry Bush. These types of weekends are currently on hold due to issues of space for families to stay. However, we are hoping to find a way around this problem in order to start them up again in the near future. We find that these weekends help parents and carers to see how we work and they are an opportunity for families and Mulberry Bush staff to think together about their experience of looking after their child. They are fun weekends which help us get to know each other better. They also let the children see home and school working together.

Foster Carers & Adopters Groups

We also run a foster carers’ group and an adopters’ group. Each of these happens three times yearly on a day when children are returning to or leaving the school for a weekend or holiday. We know that being a foster carer or an adopter for a child at The Mulberry Bush School can be a very different experience to looking after children who are not also in a therapeutic residential placement and this can leave foster carers and adoptive parents feeling somewhat isolated. The value of peer support has been recognised by research and so an opportunity for parents and carers to meet together with a facilitator to think and talk about what it is like to look after the children has been well used by both groupings.

Life Story Work

Many children who come to The Mulberry Bush School have a limited understanding of their own background. For children who have experienced multiple placements their history may be particularly confusing, with large gaps or “secrets” that have not been shared. Life Story Work (LSW) is often a key part of a Social Worker’s role, but for many of our children it may be that someone from The Mulberry Bush is in a better place to do the work. Life story work needs the support and cooperation of everyone in the child’s network – parents, carers and professionals.

  • Life story work should be tailored to a child’s individual needs and ability to manage hearing and start to process their life story. It is not simply an information sharing exercise but an opportunity to help a child make sense of their past history and start to integrate it into a narrative of their own.
  • Life story work should happen regularly, with the same staff and in the same room. In this way trusting therapeutic relationships can develop so that the pace and intensity of the work can be regulated by the adults.
  • Prescriptive methods such as online resources or standardized life story books are not routinely used for children, instead the child and adult develop ways of recording a child’s history which is developmentally suitable for each child and may result in producing a book, and/or a DVD.
  • Life Story Work sessions are written up.
  • Regular supervision is provided.

Why does The Mulberry Bush School have a Speech and Language Therapist?

Talking clearly in sentences, listening and joining in conversations, understanding what others say, being interested in new words; all these skills support a child to develop relationships and to make progress in learning. Children start to develop these skills in their earliest years of life. The child’s brain is ready to learn to communicate but it is the way that care-givers respond to, talk to and play with them that enables them to learn. When a child experiences a lack of attention and language-stimulation in their early years, the process of learning speech and language can be affected. Many of the children at our school benefit from additional activities to develop their vocabulary and improve their ability to explain ideas or recount events. Some children who come to the school have had a communication need identified. They may have had speech and language therapy before and this can be continued. The speech and language therapist will work with all staff and the child’s family to make sure the child’s needs are understood; individual or group-based programmes of therapy will be organised as appropriate. This website is for parents who want to find out more about communication skills and there is a ‘progress checker’ to help identify the needs of an individual child: Click for progress checker

FAQs for T&NT

Will my child have therapy?

Many people ask about therapy and this is something we consider carefully, especially during a child’s first term here. The first thing to say is that as a therapeutic placement your child’s provision throughout the day will be planned from a therapeutic point of view, no matter if they are in class or in their house, this is the background to how we all work. However sometimes we decide that a child might benefit from something additional, which could be:

  • a regular joint therapeutic play time with a therapist and their key work
  • therapeutic life story work
  • speech and language therapy
  • music therapy
  • dramatherapy
  • group dramatherapy
  • psychotherapy

During the assessment period, after meeting your child, the therapists talk to everyone in the treatment team and jointly a decision is made whether they would benefit from something in addition to the therapeutic setting of the school and house. If your child does have therapy then it is helpful for parents and carers to meet the therapist regularly to share progress and understanding. We find that therapy can help children open up and talk to other staff in the school that they trust, and this is how it tends to work here.

What does a Family and Network Practitioner do?

A Family and Network Practitioner (FNP) is assigned to every new child and their role is to help communication between the people working with the child especially between people outside and inside of the school. Liaison is a large part of what they do, but they also have a supportive and therapeutic role with parents and carers. Often when a child arrives here, the adults are exhausted and the FNP role is to understand the life history of the child and what led up to them coming to the school. Another key aspect is linking with the Local Authority and helping to make sure that suitable plans are in place for when the child moves to the next school.

It’s my child who has been referred so why do you want to work with me?

Often through getting to know parents the FNP identifies particular areas that parents and carers are struggling with, and so it can help to have some sessions looking at those things in detail. For example:

  • your child may have specific difficulties accepting boundaries
  • you may feel upset about things that have happened to your child
  • the child’s placement with you may be new and you may be encountering difficulties that you have not faced before
  • whilst you may feel relieved that your child is here you may also feel bad that they could not stay with you
  • Often when working with parents and carers there will be two staff members from the team, and we all have experience of working with families who have struggled to keep their children at home.

What can families do to help children who have speech and language difficulties?

Stammering (also called stuttering) can be a phase that children go through while they are learning to talk. Other children continue to stammer at times throughout childhood. How to help depends on the age of the child and the type of stammer. It is best to talk to a speech and language therapist about the kind of help a child needs. This website has some useful information:

Speech Sounds By the time they start Year 1 children will be able to use a lot of speech sounds correctly. Some sounds can take a bit longer to get right; for example it is not unusual for some children to make mistakes with sounds like

  • s, sh, ch and j
  • r, l and w
  • saying f or d instead of th

If you would like to find out more about when children generally learn speech sounds you can look at this chart: Click here for chart There are two important ways that families can help with speech sound development: Make sure the child’s hearing has been tested. Ask for another test if you think there is a hearing problem. Provide a model of how the word should be said. This is a bit like correcting the child but in a positive way and you don’t ask them to repeat what you said. E.g.

  • “Mum can we go to the weet sop?”
  • “You want to go to the sweet shop….”

Understanding language and talking in sentences

Learning to understand what people say and being able to talk in sentences is a process that takes years. Even as adults we carry on learning new words. These are strategies that adults can use to help a child who is learning to listen to language, to understand and to speak in sentences:

  • Slow your own speech down a bit
  • Be happy to repeat what you said when needed
  • Look out for other ways the child communicates with you like facial expression and body language
  • Introduce new words for things
  • Give time for the child to think what to say
  • Pay most attention to the child’s message not their errors
  • Give clues and prompts rather than telling them the word straight away
  • Take time to notice when they are listening or talking well and praise your child

Who we are

Jennifer Browner Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist 01865 300202 ext 254
Rachel Denney Speech and Language Therapist 01865 300202
David Noble Music Therapist 01865 300202
Emily Jones Dramatherapist 01865 300202
John Agudelo Family & Networks Practitioner 01865 300202
Stuart Harragan Family & Networks Practitioner 01865 300202 ext 225
Di Nixon Family and Network Practitioner 01865 300202 ext 223
Sophie Warrell Family Link Worker 01865 300202 ext 255


Why does my child behave differently at home and at school? My child behaves much worse at school than at home and it makes me wonder if he/she should be at the school. Why is there this difference in behaviour?

This is a common experience for many of our parents and carers who may begin to feel that the school is ‘bad’ for their child. Children usually come to the Mulberry Bush having had a long history of difficulties at home or in foster placements and in school. Therefore, although it is great news that they are behaving well at home, it is likely that it is the combination of the stability of home and the school placement that are coming together to make the difference for your child. Children with broken attachment histories tend to test out relationships and push them to their limits. Our children often do the testing out at school, where there are a large number of people to work with them and care for them. This can give a greater opportunity for the child to experiment with rejecting/ accepting the relationship to see if it is going to last and survive, knowing that there are other people there just in case this fails. On the other hand, they may try to preserve their homes or foster placements as the place for their warmer feelings and their good behaviour. Our experience tells us that, until the emotional difficulties and the feelings that brought them to the school have been addressed, often by the child exhibiting quite challenging behaviour, they are not likely to be able to sustain these positive relationships at home in the long term. Sometimes this can feel like a backward step, but we see both the good stable family experiences that your child receives at home with you and the work that we do with him/her at the school as equal partners in meeting your child’s needs.

If my child behaves well at home but not at school, shouldn’t he/she be at home with us all the time?

We often see children whose behaviour at home has been extremely difficult before they came to the Mulberry Bush. Usually, they have become unmanageable at home and at school. Some of the time, once they come to us, their behavior at home improves whilst it remains very difficult while they are here. Our understanding is that having the space within the safety of the school to deal with the anger and sadness from the difficult experiences they have had in the past allows them the freedom to build and maintain better relationships within their home life. Without the time spent at the school, they are likely to find it much harder to sustain their relationships at home and may test them to breaking point.

At home, my child stops his/her difficult behaviour when I say no to him/her. I worry that my child behaves badly at school because he/she is allowed. Could this be true?

We understand that it’s hard to make sense of the fact that your child seems to listen to you at home but not to us! We want to reassure you that we are firm and clear about acceptable behavior and that we know how to say no. From our point of view, being therapeutic starts with firm and clear boundaries, after which we can move on to exploring and understanding feelings. However, in the safe environment of a large staff group, and in an environment when children are challenged by school and social demands, strong feelings can rise up in children that may not in other environments. These are the feelings that they need to learn to contend with if they are going to be able to function in their wider communities and in society. We do not condone or permit anti-social behavior and we are firm and clear about it. But we do expect to see it, as children do not come to the Mulberry Bush unless they have been displaying this kind of behaviour beforehand.

I worry that my child behaves badly at school because he/she is copying other children. Could this be true?

Just as in other schools, children are influenced by their peers, and they may occasionally pick up new behaviours in the short term. One of our goals is to help children gain a sense of themselves in order to help them resist the many unhelpful influences that they will encounter throughout their lives and to opt for the more helpful ones. The children at The Mulberry Bush start off as vulnerable to those unhelpful influences, which would equally exist within any community that they live in, so learning to manage that side of life is very important and doing so in the protected environment of the school is a safe place to start.

My child shows very difficult behaviour at home but doesn’t seem to be showing this behaviour at school. Why is this?

We know that this is tricky and sometimes frustrating for parents and carers, if their child is not showing the behaviour at the school for which they came to the school in the first place. We very rarely have children who never show us their difficulties during their whole time at the school. Usually, at some point, they begin to emerge. For some children, family life can feel very complicated. Relationships with parents and parental figures can raise all kinds of strong feelings that are hard for them to manage and that can be hard for family members to help them with. Sometimes, school doesn’t feel as complicated and emotionally threatening to them, and therefore the strong feelings which lead to the difficult behaviour are not as easily aroused in them. We can still work with your child and with you to help with the difficulties your child and your family face at home. On the other hand, sometimes, once children have established stronger relationships at the school, we do begin to see the same kinds of feelings aroused in the children and the same kinds of behaviour as you see at home. So it may be that it is just a matter of time.

My child is much more difficult at home than at school. I’m worried that the school won’t believe me when I describe how difficult things can get. Is that a possibility?

We will always listen to you when you describe the struggles that you are having with your child. We know that children don’t come to the Mulberry Bush unless the difficulties have become very serious and so we will always believe you. Although your child might not show some of their most difficult behaviours right from the start, it is more than likely that they will do so at some point and is always helpful for us to know what we might expect to see. We may also feel that we can help you and your child with some of the difficulties. We would like to feel that we can work collaboratively with you so that we can help and support you where possible and that we can call on your knowledge of your child at times when we may need to.

Sometimes I disagree with how the school is dealing with my child’s behaviour. What should I do and who should I talk to?

It’s pretty likely that there will be times during your child’s time at the school when we won’t agree with each other! We hope you will feel able to talk to us. You could talk to your child’s key worker or household manager, in the first instance. We have a lot to learn from you and we hope that there will be times when you can learn from us too. But you will also sometimes have different ways than us of thinking about your child. Also your family’s needs will, at times, be different from the needs of the groups of children at the school. So you will sometimes need to do things differently from us and we will sometimes need to do things differently from you If we can keep an open and tolerant dialogue with each other, we are most likely to be able to hear each other’s points of view and work well together. We don’t think it’s necessary for you and the Mulberry Bush always to do things or respond in exactly the same way: part of growing up is learning to manage feelings and behavior in different environments that have different rules, such as at home, out shopping, or at a friend’s house. So if you and the school can give your child the message that we support each other, even if we have different ways of doing things, this is likely to help your child learn to cope with and adjust to the different environments that they will find themselves in throughout their lives.


Managing Telephone Calls

My child is very tearful on the phone and does not want to hang up. He/ she tells me how homesick he/she is. What should I do?

You are not alone with this concern and many parents find this difficult and painful. However, it is very normal for your child to miss you and the things that are familiar to them. Missing you is a sign that you are important to him/her. Some parents worry that they should not be letting their child know about their own feelings. It is OK and helpful to let your child know that you miss them too. Here are some ideas you can try:

  • You could say that you understand how hard it is for them but you know that when they are busy doing something that they enjoy, they will feel better.
  • You could talk about the next phone call or time you will see them – e.g. “when we speak on Thursday, will you tell me about … “ This can help them hold on to the fact that they are in contact with you and that you are thinking about them and the next time you will talk or see them.
  • When it is time to say goodbye, you could try to end the conversation with affection but confidently, rather than prolonging it. Please know that adults at the school will be sensitive to your child when they get off the phone from you and will help them to feel better. Feel free to contact us later to find out how they were after the conversation and to get some support from staff here.

My child doesn’t want to speak to me when I phone. Why is this? What should I do?

This can be upsetting and painful for parents and carers as they can feel rejected or unwanted. Try to remember that there is so much going on here and children are often worried about missing out on something if they are on the phone. If this is happening on a regular basis, you could talk to staff in your child’s house about when might be a better time for your phone calls to take place. Although this may be hard to think about, it is also possible that your child is trying to manage his or her feelings about being away from home by having some control over whether or not they speak to you. This does not mean that they do not care about you or that it will always be like this. It is most likely to help your relationship with them if they know that you can tolerate them having this control, without being angry with them for it. Please be assured that staff here will always encourage them to speak with you when you phone and will support you and them with any feelings that come up.

My child wants me to promise that I will buy or do things for him when he comes home that I am not likely to be able to do. I’m often worried that if I say no, he/she will get very cross or upset on the phone. What should I do?

Unrealistic promises are likely to cause problems at some point! Your child will find it hard to believe you or trust you if you make promises that you can’t keep. They also need to know that you can say no when you need to and that you really mean it when you say yes. If you need to say no, we will always support your decisions in a non-judgmental way and we don’t mind if your child gets off the phone from you in an angry state of mind. We will help them with this and support your decisions. We will also help you both to come back together on the phone in a better way when the time is right. Arguments are a normal part of family life, and although they can feel extra hard when your child is not at home with you, they are still part of ordinary relationships. It might be easiest to think of these difficult conversations as part of your child’s way of learning how to deal with disappointment, tensions and differences of opinion. Similarly, your child is not likely to find it helpful if you offer big incentives for huge behavioural improvements. Most of the children that come to The Mulberry Bush can’t just be ‘good’ for long periods of time even if they have been promised something really big. You and they are more likely to feel disappointed if you enter an agreement like that with them and they fail. Instead, you could try:

  • Praising the small achievements that you see at home or that we report to you.
  • Making sure that they know that you have enjoyed nice times that you have spent with them or nice phone conversations
  • Letting them know that you are looking forward to seeing them or speaking to them again
  • Finding small and simple ways of letting them know that you think about them when you are not with them or on the phone to them.

Sometimes staff members at the school have told me about things that my child has done that he/she should not have done. How should I manage this on the phone?

We like to let you know the range of positive and less positive things that your child has done at the school. It gives a realistic picture of your child and enables you to know more about your child’s day-to-day experience. However, with the more negative issues, we have usually managed them and dealt with them here, so we never expect you to tell off your child or punish them for their behaviour. But your child will find it helpful, even if they don’t like it very much, if you can let them know that you know about it and are interested. You could try saying:

  • “I heard you had a hard day today because … happened” or
  • “I heard that … helped you when you were doing…today”
  • “I heard that … happened today, and that you’ve done ….and … to make it better. Well done!”

A non-punitive response such as those is supportive both to your child and to the school and is more likely to lead to your child talking to you about their life at the school.

The Mulberry Bush School


Our aim is to reintegrate all children placed with us into an appropriate family and school.