Headteacher: ‘My daughter’s illness forced me to quit’

Photo Neil Cross
Toni Roethling quit her job as head at Hodgson to care for her adult daughter

Photo Neil Cross Toni Roethling quit her job as head at Hodgson to care for her adult daughter

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The headteacher of a leading Lancashire school says she was forced to quit to look after her mentally ill daughter.

Toni Roethling said she could no longer juggle running Hodgson Academy in Poulton, near Blackpool, with caring for the 28-year-old, who has attempted suicide several times since falling ill as a schoolgirl.

The 57-year-old, who lives in Barton, near Preston, has now called for more to be done to tackle mental health problems youngsters are facing.

She said: “We are getting primary school children coming to us with severe problems.

“It won’t help my 
daughter now, but what does need to happen is earlier 
intervention. Most schools are overwhelmed.”

Toni, who left the 
‘outstanding’ rated school at the end of the term, also called for better healthcare in the community to help people cope on their own.

“More broadly, we need more resources and mental health services need to look at how people will function in society,” she said. “Mental health facilities are not constructed in ways that they address social needs and how people live and can have a role in society.

“People get a lot of help when they are admitted — and getting admitted is very hard — but it’s what happens next.”

Starting her career as a physics teacher in Surrey in 1984, Toni went to work at three more schools before being appointed as Hodgson’s director of the technology college in 2002.

In 2009, she was promoted to acting principal, before becoming associate principal a year later. But while her career flourished, Toni endured personal torment. Her daughter, who she does not want to be named, was diagnosed with autism, Asperger syndrome, and paranoid schizophrenia and began self-harming.

“She had always had the Asperger’s and on reflection you realise that, but she is very highly functioning and went to a very small primary school, so they coped with what we thought was her eccentricity,” Toni said. “At secondary schools, the social issues became more 
noticeable and she became very unhappy.

“I took her to the GP and said she felt suicidal and they said she come go on a waiting list for CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services) but until she took an overdose she would not be seen, which is frightening.”

Toni’s daughter grew up to be a successful student, studying a PhD and moving to London, but has spent several stints as a mental health inpatient, including at The Harbour in Preston New Road, Blackpool, and tried to kill herself several times.

The system, Toni says, is full of vulnerable women like her daughter, who receive good care while they’re an in-patient. But she said: “There doesn’t seem to be a willingness to pick up on their wider needs.

“They don’t deal with the issues that will lead to them being functioning people, and that’s a crime.

“When she is admitted she is cared for very well. I know people are critical of The Harbour and I wouldn’t be.

“The people working in mental health are working very hard, but the resources are limited and sometimes their vision is limited.

“They work with the crisis, get them out of it, and then pass them on to community mental health, and what they offer is very limited.”

Toni’s daughter was making good progress under a psychologist at The Harbour until she was discharged in February, and is now on a waiting list.

And Toni, so used to being in control of a thriving school, admitted feeling ‘helpless’ as she fights for better healthcare for her.

“I think she does not know where to go,” she added. “She can’t see a future for herself with these issues. She is struggling.”

Earlier this year, it all became too much for Toni. After falling and breaking her foot, she realised she was spinning two many plates at once.

She said: “It was becoming harder and harder. I knew one of them had to go. My 
daughter needed emotional support, reminding to take her medication, and taking to appointments. That required me to take time off work, which was not fair on the job.

“The school was brilliant but it wasn’t fair to take the amount of work off that I needed.”

The Centre for Mental Health warned those with difficulties go an average of 10 years between first becoming unwell and first getting any help. A report found problems are common among young people but awareness is poor and attempts by parents to get help for their children are unsuccessful.

That leads to their problems getting worse and turning into a crisis, it said.

Associate director for children and young people, Lorraine Khan, said: “Childhood mental health problems are extremely common and can be very serious. They affect 10 per cent of children each year and can cast a long shadow well into adult life.”

A spokesman for Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, which is responsible for care in the area where Toni lives, said: “As a provider of children’s mental health services, LCFT has seen an increase in both demand and complexity of presentations over the past few years, which presents increasing challenges to service delivery.

“The Trust is therefore working with local commissioners and NHS England to identify any gaps in provision and develop ways to ensure that they can continue to provide a robust, clinically effective service for children, young people and families now and in the future.”