Tackling mental health issues and building resilient, emotionally and mentally healthy children and young people must now be a stated national priority for the Welsh Government, a National Assembly committee has said.
The Children, Young People and Education Committee identifies an urgent need to invest in preventative and early intervention services. The Committee believes that the distress suffered by many children and young people could be reduced or even avoided by enabling them to draw on the right support at the right time, in schools and in primary care across Wales.
As part of the Committee’s wide-ranging inquiry into the emotional and mental health of children and young people in Wales, resounding calls were made by stakeholders for a stronger emphasis on early intervention and building emotional resilience. This includes embedding mental health into the new curriculum and ensuring that schools are supported by other services, most notably health, to reduce the stigma associated with mental ill health and to enable children and young people to maintain their emotional well-being.
The Committee believes a major step change is required if these issues are to be tackled. It calls on the Welsh Government to make the emotional and mental health well-being of children and young people a stated national priority by:
- providing an adequate and ring-fenced resource for schools to become community hubs of cross-sector and cross-professional support for emotional resilience and mental well-being, supported by statutory and third sector services, most notably health;
- ensuring that emotional and mental health is fully embedded in the new curriculum;
- ensuring that everyone who cares, volunteers or works with children and young people is trained in emotional and mental health awareness in order to tackle stigma and promote good mental health.
The Committee recognises the improvements that have been made in specialist children and adolescent mental health services since 2014 and the signficant additional investment made in services.
However, it concludes that these changes do not go far enough and calls on the Welsh Government to make urgent improvements to the “front end” of the care pathway – emotional well-being, resilience and early intervention.
The Committee believes that failure to deliver preventative services will lead to demand for specialist services outstripping supply, threatening their sustainability and effectiveness.
Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee Lynne Neagle AM said:
“It is estimated that three children in every average sized classroom will have a mental health issue. By the age of 14, half of all mental health problems will have already begun. To stem the flow, a major step change is needed in the priority given to supporting the emotional resilience and well-being of children and young people in Wales.
“The time has come to put mind over matter and deliver appropriate, timely and effective emotional support for our children and young people. For that reason we make one important recommendation – preventative and early intervention support needs urgent attention and should be a stated national priority for the Welsh Government. Failure to deliver at this end of the pathway will lead to our children and young people suffering unnecessary distress.
“As it stands, the pieces of the jigsaw that need to be in place to enable children and young people to be supported outside the most specialist settings simply do not exist. This is unacceptable and must be addressed urgently by the Welsh Government.”
In addition to its key recommendation, the Committee makes 27 recommendations in its report, including:
- that the Welsh Government undertake a review of the numerous emotional and mental well-being initiatives underway in Wales’s schools, with a view to recommending a national approach based on best practice;
- that the Welsh Government pilot the role of “guidance teacher” in Wales, or adopt another model that allocates responsibility for the emotional and mental health of pupils to a lead member of teaching or non-teaching staff;
- that the Welsh Government set out an improvement plan for local primary mental health support services for children and young people in Wales;
- that the Welsh Government, in relation to suicide specifically, work with expert organisations to provide guidance to schools on talking about suicide and self-harm;
- that the Welsh Government set out a national action plan for the delivery of psychological therapies for children and young people;
- that the Welsh Government undertake work on the provision of emotional and mental health support for looked after and adopted children, with a particular focus on the extent to which public bodies are delivering their responsibilities as corporate parents.