17 Jun 2015

School children should be supported to spot the early signs of mental and emotional stress so they can get help soon enough to prevent problems escalating into long-term mental illness, according to The Children’s Society.

The charity, which campaigns and provides services for children in poverty and teenagers at risk of neglect, is calling for investment in prevention and early intervention services – including in schools – to address problems before they can develop into more serious conditions.

As part of this it is calling for a national focus on positive mental health, emotional well-being and resilience in schools and communities, through the curriculum as well as through targeted support.

The pre-election announcement of £1.25bn funding for children and adolescent mental health services in this year’s budget statement was welcome. But The Children’s Society argues it is vital that this funding is fully ring-fenced to make sure local areas can invest it in early intervention and specialist services, including targeted support for vulnerable older teenagers and victims of child sexual exploitation.

In recent years, support services have been significantly undermined by insecure or short term funding, or have been shut down altogether. Investment in Children and Adolescents’ Mental Health Services (CAMHS) has reached a tipping point with real-terms cuts of £79m over a three-year period despite the growing number of young people requiring mental health support.

The charity is calling for better access and support for the most vulnerable groups of young people who can often by overlooked by services, including older teenagers and those who may have experienced, or are at risk of, sexual abuse, domestic violence or homelessness.

It is also concerned that an increase in child poverty could lead to an increase in demand for child and adolescent mental health services. It plans to investigate how child mental health is impacted by debt, poor housing, unemployment, isolation and poor access to services.

The Children’s Society, which already offers a range of counselling, befriending and emotional support services, including in schools, is planning to expand its mental health work following evidence from its frontline services that mental health problems among vulnerable young people are significant and growing. It has published a policy paper setting out the organisation’s priorities for improving children’s mental health services in the coming years.

The organisation’s focus on mental health and emotional wellbeing comes against a backdrop of pressures on young people, such as exams, constant access to social media, and with research showing that many teenagers’ self-esteem and emotional well-being are worryingly low.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: 'Children and young people are under huge pressures and yet they are made to wait to receive the help they need with issues like depression or anxiety, if they are able to access help at all.

'The mental health needs of the most vulnerable young people in particular are so often overlooked when they are crying out for help to deal with the emotional impact of abuse and neglect.

'We believe schools are the ideal places to start identifying and meeting the mental health and emotional needs of pupils at an early stage. They offer a safe environment for children and young people to address issues that can have an impact on mental health, such as low self-esteem, bullying, and exam anxiety.
Through our work, we know all these issues can be early warning signs of future risks for young people such as running away, falling into gangs, and even being at risk of exploitation and abuse.

'That’s why we are asking Government to ring-fence investment in this area, and why we hope to use our experience and expertise to prevent children’s mental health problems having lasting effects.'

Media enquiries

For more information or an interview, please call The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422, 07775 812 357 or email media@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.

Notes to Editors:

• The Children’s Society’s policy paper, Children’s Mental Health: Priorities for Improving Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services in England, is available here.
• The last official research into the prevalence of mental ill health among children took place in 2004, when a survey by the Office for National Statistics found that one in 10 children up to the age of 16 suffer from mental health issues. That is the equivalent of about three children in every classroom.
• The Children’s Society has studied children’s subjective well-being since 2005. Our Good Childhood Inquiry, launched in 2006, was the first independent national inquiry into childhood that sought to better understand modern childhood from children themselves. We have since produced regular reports reviewing children’s subjective well-being and have analysed the impact of a range of aspects affecting the way children feel about their lives.
• The Children’s Society has helped change children’s stories for over a century. We expose injustice and address hard truths, tackling child poverty and neglect head-on. We fight for change based on the experiences of every child we work with and the solid evidence we gather. Through our campaigning, commitment and care, we are determined to give every child in this country the greatest possible chance in life. For more information visit: childrenssociety.org.uk