Psych support for vulnerable kids

RCN Northern Ireland Nurse of the Year Emma McKinney tells us about her crucial work to secure mental health care in the community for young people in the justice system

“I feel that it’s a privilege to work with these children,” says Emma, describing her work as a specialist nurse practitioner working in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

“For many, it’s the first time they’ve come into contact with a professional they feel they can talk to and trust. I’m here to make them feel safe and to build a relationship with them.”

Emma has been based at Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre in Bangor since the start of 2018. She works with young people within the criminal justice system who can often experience difficulties accessing community mental health services. This is despite many of them experiencing extensive problems such as drug and alcohol misuse, homelessness and abuse.

Emma’s job is to speak with the children if they request it, and assess their mental health needs. “All children, wherever they are, have access to CAHMS, but some of the young people I see are far from where they live and it’s difficult for them to get support.” 

I know it's a cliche, but I like to think I make a difference

Emma was nominated by her manager for the RCN Northern Ireland Nurse of the Year Award for implementing a protocol supporting the transfer of care between Woodlands and community CAMHS teams in the five trusts in Northern Ireland.

This has resolved issues including inadequate discharge planning and inconsistencies in service provision. Most importantly, 100% of young people who accessed the service prior to leaving Woodlands are now able to receive care and support from their local trust CAMHS team. 

I want to empower young people so they feel they have a choice about their future

“I want to make sure these children are getting the support they need once they’re back in their own communities. I know it’s a cliché, but I like to think I make a difference, whether it’s immediately or further down the line when someone can say something as simple as I listened to them.”

Winning the award has come as a shock to Emma and is likely to open career opportunities. But for now, she’s focused on further improving the service she’s in. 

“I love my job and the children I work with are brilliant. I get the best of both worlds as after qualifying I worked in forensic nursing and now I get to combine forensic with children’s mental health, which is a unique and exciting position to be in. 

“I’m just getting started where I am. The service is relatively new and evolving and it’s great to be a part of that. I just want to keep doing what I do and helping to make children’s lives easier. I want to empower them to know they have a choice about their future.”

Find out more

View the full list of winners of this year's RCN Northern Ireland Nurse of the Year awards.

Want to know more about working in criminal justice and mental health? Visit the RCN Mental Health Forum and Nursing in Criminal Justice Forum webpages. 

Words by Susan Embley. Pictures by Simon Graham.

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