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Lockdown mental health issues among children soar, new figures

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This is up from 97,956 in the 2018-19 academic year, the last full school year before the pandemic began.

The increase, of 30 percent, appears to confirm fears that lockdowns, disruption to schooling and the stress of the pandemic have had a devastating effect on young people. The data was published as part of a “school census” conducted by the Department for Education.

Most of the children affected are receiving support for special educational needs, while almost 30,000 are the subject of an education, health and care plan drawn up by their local council, which is reserved for those with the most serious problems.

Experts say there is a “crisis” in children’s mental health. Gemma Byrne, Policy and Campaigns Manager for charity Mind, said: “The pandemic has taken a huge toll on young people’s mental health. In a recent survey, half of parents told us they are worried that their child’s mental health is now worse than before the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, all too often young people with special educational needs and disabilities aren’t able to get the support they need for their mental health in school because of limited workforce capacity, resource or specialist training. On top of this, many young people face long waits for NHS mental health services or are told they are not ‘unwell enough’ to get support.”

“The government must urgently respond to the crisis in young people’s mental health by investing in early support hubs and addressing gaps in support in education for young people with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities).”

Opposition politicians last night issued a plea for action to ensure children and young people can access the support they need.

Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: “The Conservatives have neglected children’s mental health which is leaving more and more young people requiring additional specialist support at school.”

“While Ministers focus on attacking one another, Labour would be fixing this problem now by putting a counsellor in every school and a mental health hub in every community so young people have access to the support they need from day one.”

The Government says it has made supporting children with mental health issues a key part of its recovery plan, designed to help pupils who missed school due to lockdowns. This includes providing schools with £950 million in additional funding which they can use to support pupils’ mental health and wellbeing.

A cross-government Mental Health Recovery Action plan also includes £79 million to speed up and expand the provision of mental health support teams in schools, meaning nearly three million children in England will access school or college-based support by April 2023.

A Government spokesperson said: “Our reforms to the system of support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) will set new national standards across education, health and care.”

“We have trained hundreds more educational psychologists since 2020, who provide crucial support to children and young people with SEND, and an additional £10 million will train over 200 more from September 2023.”

However, a major study published yesterday [[SAT]] warned that children’s mental health services are buckling under pressure and putting vulnerable young people at risk of exploitation, violence, and abuse.

The Commission on Young Lives report said one in six children aged 6 to 16 were identified as having a probable mental health problem in July 2021, up from one in nine in 2017. 

Commission Chair Anne Longfield said: “The children’s mental health emergency in England is so profound that we face a generational threat to our country’s future national prosperity and success. The scale of the problem is growing, rocket-boosted by the pandemic and the system is buckling under pressure and unable to cope with the explosion in demand for help.”

Warnings have also been issued by the House of Commons Education Committee. In a report published earlier this year, the Committee said: “Before the pandemic there were serious concerns about the mental health of our children and young people. The pandemic has exacerbated an existing crisis.”

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