ASCL comment on surge in children with mental health problems during the pandemic

Margaret Mulholland, SEND and Inclusion Specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, comments on the Local Government Association’s report showing a surge in children with mental health problems seen by social workers during the pandemic.
“We thank the Local Government Association for this important report, which presents a truly shocking picture of the way the disruption wrought by the pandemic has impacted on the mental wellbeing of children and young people.
“The lockdowns of 2020 and early 2021 now seem like something of a distant memory but the impact they had on children and young people, and particularly on those who are vulnerable, disadvantaged or with special educational needs, was significant. Their familiar routines and support mechanisms literally evaporated overnight on several occasions and the effects on their mental health have been both profound and long-lasting.
“The major surprise is that the LGA report does not address or acknowledge the vital role schools and colleges can and should play in identifying students who are struggling with their mental health and in preventing problems developing.
“As well as this report, recording a 25 per cent increase in children and young people having been assessed by social workers as needing mental health support, we are also hearing worrying concerns from schools and colleges about student wellbeing, with a rise in anxiety, coupled with a loss of confidence and self-esteem, having an impact on learning and attendance.
“There are also deeper, and less immediately apparent, concerns about problems children and young people are increasingly having with initiating and building relationships. These are longer term issues that, if not properly addressed, can result in loneliness, suicidal ideation and online risks heightening.
“Access to clinical support for student wellbeing and mental health is an issue, with some schools and colleges reporting waiting times of up to two years for children and young people whose needs they describe as serious but not yet acute. Mental Health Support Teams are helping with the volume but there is a gap in provision that needs to be plugged. 
“We fully back and reinforce the LGA’s call for government to urgently address the mental health crisis among children and young people by working with all those involved – schools, colleges, local councils and the NHS – on a post-pandemic recovery plan.”