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Schools alone can’t support children’s mental health

Schools alone can’t support children’s mental health

Angel Strachan

Angel Strachan

Policy and Public Affairs Manager - Angel leads the development of Place2Be's evidence-based policy objectives aimed at widening school based mental health services. She manages our external stakeholder relationships with decision-makers. Prior to joining the organisation in June 2023, she has worked in public affairs at a number of UK charities, and has also worked for an MP.

Sarah Hannafin

Sarah Hannafin

Head of Policy (Practice and Research) at NAHT, the school leaders’ union - Sarah’s policy remit includes curriculum, statutory assessment and qualifications, pupil mental wellbeing and safeguarding. Before joining NAHT in 2015, Sarah spent 18 years working in schools, starting as a learning support assistant before qualifying as a teacher of Religious Education. She spent eight years of her teaching career on the senior leadership team where her responsibilities included teaching, learning, pastoral support and safeguarding.

Since it began in 2015, Children’s Mental Health Week has created the opportunity to focus on young people by encouraging schools, parents and children to take a moment to get involved, hear from experts and show support for young people’s mental wellbeing.

Young people’s wellbeing is an issue that unfortunately seems to get more important each year.

After all, the past few years have been difficult for all of us to manage. But for those who have spent their most formative years facing challenges including lockdowns, the rising cost of living and climate change, and being exposed to conflicts abroad, the potential impact on mental health is huge.

Children’s Mental Health Week: My Voice Matters

This is why the theme of Children’s Mental Health Week 2024 is “My Voice Matters” - focusing on the need of all children to feel that their voice is heard and that there is the right support available for them if, and when, they need it.

This is something that schools can play an incredibly important role in, not only by providing a safe and nurturing environment for young people to thrive in but also by

Many schools already do this well, which is heartening. According to polling carried out by YouGov on behalf of the charity Place2Be, 75% of young people say their school offers support for their wellbeing, and they find it helpful.

Furthermore, more than half of young people feel comfortable talking to their teachers about their feelings, and 69% feel like their opinions are valued by teachers.

Lack of specialist support

Clearly there is lots of good work being done, but schools will have to continue listening to the voices of their pupils about the challenges they are facing, so they can adapt and develop their approaches to supporting mental and emotional wellbeing across their school community.

Schools cannot do this alone, though, and there have been some positive steps from government to support children’s wellbeing, too: mental health and wellbeing is now part of the curriculum in relationships, sex and health education; funded training has been offered to mental health leads; and mental health support teams have been rolled out in some areas of the country.

However, thousands of young people who are really struggling with their mental health can’t get the support they need and, for all the good that schools can do to help pupils, education staff are not mental health specialists and they must refer those pupils on to other professionals.

Those services need to be available and accessible to offer the therapeutic support that those children and young people need.

More funding needed

This is where the government must go further and faster, and urgently commit to investing in services designed to support schools, young people and their families.

This includes extra funding and resourcing for specialist mental health provision, as well as providing early help and support before young people and their families reach a crisis point. This requires fully funded mental health provision in every single school.

Ultimately, if the government wishes to create a better world for the next generation, it needs to make sure that they have the right services in place to do this. If we are to genuinely make young people believe that “My Voice Matters”, we need to make sure that those with the power to change things are listening.

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