The vision of the UK’s Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition (CYPMHC) is for all infants, children and young people to grow up in a society that prioritises and attends to their mental health and wellbeing. After a year of living through the Covid-19 pandemic, Charlotte Rainer, CYMPHC Coalition Lead, argues that this vision feels more important than ever.
Many of our members have been growing increasingly concerned about the mental health impact of the pandemic on children and young people. Indeed, NHS data shows that one in six children and young people aged 5-16 now have a mental health difficulty, compared to one in nine in 2017. Research from Centre for Mental Health also shows that 1.5 million children and young people will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This year we have seen much greater conversation about mental health and wellbeing, with the government recognising the mental health impacts of the pandemic on the population, including children and young people.
We have also seen investment made into children’s mental health, with £79 million recently announced to increase mental health services within schools and to boost capacity within NHS Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services. An additional £40 million has also been allocated to address the impact of the pandemic on children and young people’s mental health, which will include increasing the bed capacity within inpatient care.
Put children at heart of recovery
However, whilst these are good first steps, the Government has missed a crucial opportunity to really put the mental health of children and young people at the heart of recovery.
The recently announced education recovery plans predominantly focus on academic “catch-up” with very little attention paid to mental health and wellbeing support. What is more, the funding attached to these plans is minimal, equating to just £50 per pupil. The subsequent resignation of Sir Kevan Collins as Education Recovery Commissioner was also deeply worrying and begged the question as to who will be advocating for children and young people now within education recovery plans.
The Government frequently refer to their “levelling up” intentions, and it is crucial that infants, children and young people are part of this. As we look forward, we believe there are three key priority areas:
Prioritising a whole school and college approach
A whole school and college approach has now become more important than ever as we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, and it is time that such an approached is implemented at a national level.
The Government do recognise the importance of whole school and college approaches. Most recently, the Wellbeing for Education Recovery Programme was implemented in order to promote and support the wellbeing and mental health of pupils during the recovery period. Whilst this was welcome, the programme has been piecemeal in its approach.
To fully ensure that a whole school and college approach is implemented, all 8 principles that make up such an approach need to be embedded. These principles not only include support for pupils and students, but also recognise the importance of supporting the adults in young people’s lives, including teachers, school staff and parent/carers.
A whole school and college approach to mental health and wellbeing can play a massive role in helping to create a culture where every student is recognised and valued – this should form a vital part of recovery plans.
Implementing early support hubs
For too long, children and young people have been struggling to get help with their mental health at an early stage. As we emerge from the pandemic, it is crucial that children and young people get easy access to the support they need. That is why we are working with YoungMinds, Youth Access, The Children’s Society, Centre for Mental Health and Mind in order to jointly call for a network of hubs providing early mental health support across the country.
Early support hubs are designed to offer easy-to-access, drop-in support on a self-referral basis for young people with mental health needs. These hubs are non-stigmatising and provide a flexible approach to mental health support.
We believe that all local areas in England should have an early support hub to ensure all young people have the support they need, at a time that is right for them.
Being optimistic for our children and young people
The overarching message we hear from our members is that we need to be more optimistic for our children and young people. Many of our members have told us that we need to move away from the language of a “lost generation” and of “catch-up” as this can be damaging to children and young people.
As we think about our recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to be hopeful and positive for our children and young people. We need to be more ambitious for children and young people and ensure that there is a mental health system that supports them when they need it. Finally, we need to truly listen to children and young people and centre their voices in recovery plans.
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