Policy Document

The Mental Health of Children and Young People



(2022) The Mental Health of Children and Young People. Children's Alliance. Online. https://childrensalliance.org.uk/working-group-reports/

Children and young people were not a priority in the early stages of the pandemic. Whilst children and young people were considered to be at ‘low health risk’ but this did not account for the seriousness of mental health issues. Evidence of the psychological impact of Covid-19 on children and young people is fast emerging. A concerning number of studies and systemic reviews suggest the overwhelming negative impact on child and adolescent mental health. The Buttle UK survey (June 22 – 15 July 2021) revealed that the Covid-19 pandemic had exacerbated an ‘under the radar’ mental health crisis leaving a generation of children traumatised and unable to benefit from the Government’s educational recovery programmes. ‘We must listen to frontline professionals and prioritise mental health support’:https://buttleuk.org/news/news-list/state-of-child-poverty-2021/. Our report shows that the primary need for ‘Generation Covid’ is not educational attainment, but emotional recovery and the fostering of resilience; supported by a National UK Strategy for Play, encompassing play provision and facilities in all schools and early years settings. There are currently too many children and young people across England being denied vital mental health support in schools or access to mental health services. The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have impacted children’s mental health in many different ways. This report highlights the increased levels of anxiety, behavioural issues and increased conflicts at home. It asks for immediate measures to ‘level up’ service provision for children and young people with SEND and those with existing mental health conditions whose needs have been forgotten during the pandemic with our most vulnerable children frequently left unsupported. Prioritising the maintenance of grades and statistics since the pandemic cannot and must not be at the expense of child and adolescent mental wellbeing. Here, we urge the Government to support fully-funded early intervention hubs in schools and communities that address the inequalities that contribute to poor mental health. The hubs should provide an easy access self-referral service for children and young people who fall below the CAMHS threshold. We recommend statutory national in-school counselling and play and creative arts therapy services staffed only by those who are professionally accredited and registered through an independent Government-approved agency such as the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) Accredited Register Programme or the Health and Care Professions Council. On World Mental Health Day (10 October 2021) the Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza observed that the numbers of children with a mental health problem had risen from 1 in 9 before Covid to 1 in 6 now. Outcomes from her Big Ask survey showed that 1 in 5 children were unhappy about the state of their mental health with girls and older children in the most deprived areas the worst affected. A 17-year-old girl who had participated said: ‘The lack of help with mental health has been the biggest thing that has stopped me and my friends from achieving what we want.’ Just over half of the children surveyed (52%) considered good mental health to be one of their key aspirations. But the problem is in no way circumscribed by calendar age. The adverse impact on the very youngest children has been profound; to include toddlers and even younger children in lockdown: ‘You just can’t help but have that stress filter down to children. I think they saw more than we would ever like to admit.’ Mother of a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old: https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wpcontent/uploads/2021/09/the_big_ask_the_big_answer_09_2021.pdf The pressure on CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) with inordinate waiting times and a litany of cancelled appointments pre-dates the pandemic but since the onset of Covid-19, the latest NHS data shows a record number of children referred for urgent mental health treatment (2,260 in June 2021 alone), an increase of 90% on 2020 figures. However, the number of financially cheaper remote appointments has also increased and the steady reduction in face-to-face services has come at a high health cost. ‘We owe it to our children and young people to stop defaulting to giving them the cheap alternative to face-to-face treatment and instead offer them the treatment choice they need...It is simply unacceptable that some of the most vulnerable people in our society ...are not being seen in person. This not only fails to help people get better, it puts them at risk.’ Paul Farmer: Chief Executive of Mind: The Government has allocated £79m to boost previous plans to improve children’s mental healthcare provision and wellbeing in health and education settings as well as initiatives intended to address the wider determinants of mental health. However, many professionals consider this sum to be a drop in the ocean. What is required is sustained investment in research and mental health service provision and the reassurance stemming from a joined-up, system-wide approach to mental health services. A holistic approach to child mental health would addresses the key indicators of risk and vulnerability such as the effects of abuse, environmental and socioeconomic factors and the corrosive effects of poverty. This report recommends a fully-funded National Strategy for Mental Health from the point of pre-conception; a strategy to make early intervention and support for parents and new families a matter of priority. The earlier the intervention the less likely a child will experience the life-long devastation of present and continuing severe mental ill health. Here we examine what is needed from Government, professionals and the family in order for all children to enjoy their birth right of a life founded upon strong mental health and the stability of wellbeing. The Covid 19 pandemic has been a horrific conclusion for so many people of all ages and walks of life. Although we cannot turn back time, we can ensure that there is a brighter future for our children and young people – the adult society of tomorrow.

Children's Alliance funded

Publication date31/07/2022
Publication date online31/07/2022
Publisher URLhttps://childrensalliance.org.uk/working-group-reports/
Place of publicationOnline

People (2)


Dr Alison Murray

Dr Alison Murray

Lecturer (Primary Ed.- Health&Wellbeing), Education

Ms Kate Smith

Ms Kate Smith

Lecturer, Communications, Media and Culture