Health

Ministers commit £17m to help kids cope after year of ‘trauma and anxiety’

The scheme is promised to boost mental health in schools and colleges but teachers' unions warn austerity cuts must be reversed to support young people

A young girl sits at her school desk staring down at her textbook and looking lonely. Mental health

The number of children referred for mental health support increased by 35 per cent between 2018/19 and 2020. Image: Pexels

The government will fund newly trained mental health experts for schools and colleges across England to tackle children’s “trauma, anxiety or grief” following the Covid-19 crisis. 

The new £17m cashpot includes £9.5m for schools to train an existing member of staff as a “senior mental health lead” over the next academic year, offered to 7,800 state schools and colleges now and to all by 2025.

Ministers will also give £7m as part of a Wellbeing for Education Recovery programme providing free expert training for teachers and staff to support children and young people whose mental wellbeing was impacted by the pandemic.

“Teachers and school leaders have seen the impact lockdown and the pandemic has had on children’s mental health,” said Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT). “Children are returning to school needing not just academic help, but a wide range of pastoral, mental health and wellbeing support too, all of which requires additional resources.

“But schools cannot be the only place children or their families are able to turn for help with mental health. The support of well-integrated and well-funded social and health services is equally vital. Sadly, these services have been seriously damaged by a decade of austerity.”

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It is essential to increase the capacity of social care, health and other services to “meet the growing demand and to reduce waiting times,” Whiteman added.

The number of children referred for mental health support increased by 35 per cent between 2018/19 and 2020, but research showed the number of kids being treated had grown by only four per cent.

Senior mental health leads will work with children and young people to give them a say in how their school or young people supports their mental wellbeing, while helping staff develop their understanding of the challenges theirs pupils are facing 

“I know how difficult the pandemic has been for many children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing, and the next few months will be crucial in supporting their recovery,” said Gavin Williamson, education secretary.

“Getting back into the classroom was a vital step in this process but success in school and college goes beyond an excellent education – as parents we want our children to feel settled, calm and happy while they learn.”

The scheme is designed to ensure “every young person knows who and where to turn to” if they are struggling, Williamson added.

Calling for counsellors to be stationed in every school, Dame Rachel de Souza – Children’s Commissioner for England – said young people were facing an “epidemic” of mental health problems.

“Mental wellbeing and health is raised with me by children in many of my recent conversations,” she added. “Children’s mental health must be a priority as we come out of the Covid pandemic.”

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A NHS study conducted in July last year found significant mental health conditions among children had risen by 50 per cent compared to three years earlier. Major disruption to two years of school, isolation from friends and worrying about family took a “heavy toll” on many children, it said.

The new Government funding will also go towards improving the relationship between the health and education sectors and streamline the process for referring children to specialists when needed.

“Our children and young people have faced unique challenges over the course of this very difficult and unsettling pandemic, and while they have shown great resilience, I recognise the need for additional support,” said Nadine Dorries, mental health minister.

“It is essential that children and young people can access the support they need and this extra funding further cements our commitment to their wellbeing, equipping them with the tools to look after their mental health.”

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