Agenda item

An overview of Children and Young People's Mental Health

To provide Members of the Sub-Committee an update of the impact of Covid 19 on children and young people’s mental health

Minutes:

The Sub-Committee received a report on the impact of Covid 19 on children and young people’s mental health. 

 

Prior to the outbreak of coronavirus, the Local Authority had experienced an increase in the proportion of children and young people presenting with social, emotional, mental health (SEMH) issues. Between 2017/18 and 2019/20 there was a 45% increase in the proportion of Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCP) issued with SEMH as a primary need, alongside an increase in the proportion of children and young people presenting with emerging SEMH needs.

 

The government were committed to significantly expand mental health support for children and young people, recognising that young people had been uniquely impacted by the pandemic.

 

NHS research suggested that 1 in 6 young people might now have a mental health problem, up from 1 in 9 in 2017. It was anticipated that the number of mental health support teams in schools and colleges would grow from 59 to 400 by April 2023, supporting nearly 3 million children. The ambition was that mental health support teams would work in a variety of ways, including enabling children to text their local mental health support team, with a health professional responding within an hour during the school day offering them advice, or providing families with tips on how to spot that the children and young people were struggling with their mental health.

 

During the pandemic, Local Authority officers and school leaders had maintained a focus on monitoring pupils’ mental health and wellbeing and recognised that many families had experienced raised levels of anxiety and to try to capture some emerging issues they completed a staff survey in February 2021. The outcomes were a snapshot of the views of staff in schools at that point and responses were received from 60% of schools. From this sample, 77% of responses were from Primary and First Schools and this was before the wider re-opening of schools on 8 March 2021 so more issues might arise as pupils returned to school.

 

From the survey findings, 96% of schools felt Covid19 had a detrimental impact on the mental health of children and young people. It was also felt that children and young people were resilient and would overcome the issues they were experiencing with the right nurturing and support.

Anxiety, loneliness, relationship issues and poor sleep ranked the highest in terms of negative impact.  Free text responses suggested that the first national lockdown and period of school closure had less of a negative impact than ongoing periods of isolation due to positive cases, contact tracing and then self isolation. 

Young people had spent long periods of time on computers and devices and missed social interaction with peers at lunch and break times. Other issues identified were lack of motivation, lack of resilience, more extreme behaviour and frustration and not being allowed to socialise beyond the bubble.

 

In terms of the strong link between physical and mental health, restrictions placed upon schools and clubs to prevent the spread of the infection had meant that children and young people had no access to community clubs and sports facilities, no after school clubs and activity groups, no access to competition, limitations on team sports and physical education activities in school.

 

Of the 114 Fair Access Referrals from September 2020 to the end of January 2021, 85 students had been identified as having mental health which had deteriorated since lockdown 2020 or identified as their mental health being the same, 29 students did not have a Covid mental health question completed and there were no students with improved mental health. This equated to just over half of students considered as part of Fair Access protocols, having experienced a decline in their mental health.

 

For some children in care, Covid had a negative impact on family time and contact sessions with some reporting a breakdown in relationships with siblings.

A number of young people who still accessed school during lockdown found it beneficial and some were more relaxed with foster carers having spent more time at home. 

 

Some children with special educational needs had experienced anxiety over transport and getting to school and some were physically upset due to lack of access and felt bored and lonely not being able to contact friends. 

 

Some positive impacts included increased awareness and discussion about mental health and wellbeing.  Increased family time had benefits on behaviour, greater time to focus on vulnerable pupils, strengthened relationships between home and school and some less confident pupils had responded well to online learning.

 

At the start of the academic year, Local Authority officers, working alongside staff from Moorgate, established a Covid recovery programme for a cohort of Year 11 pupils all displaying mental health issues and with poor school attendance in the previous academic year. Of the original 33 students identified, 31 remained on the programme and were in receipt of mental health support.

 

Wellbeing for Education Return was a national initiative funded by the Department of Education and Department of Health and Social Care to provide tools to enable schools staff to protect and strengthen the whole school’s resilience to wellbeing and mental health impacts of COVID 19. All schools in North Tyneside had accessed training for delivery of these materials and there had been positive feedback on the content with 97% of delegates feeling that they could cope with mental health in schools. 

 

In addition, Local Authority officers began the first phase of a pilot project to achieve an ambition to train all staff and pupils from North Tyneside schools in mental health awareness, with two staff trained as mental health first aiders from each school. The intention behind this universal offer, was to ensure there was a shared language and understanding of the impact of poor mental ill-health. Thus, enabling all staff to provide appropriate responses to all pupils at the point of need. This was intended to underpin more specialist support from ‘Thrive’ practitioners. There remained ongoing access to: ‘Kooth’, an online counselling support for young people with mental health issues and the Educational Psychology team who were involved in the project and would manage the critical incidents.

The ambition was to roll out to train pupils in mental health awareness so children with mental health pressures would be better able to articulate and share with peers their concerns and receive a strong network of support.

 

The Mental Health First Aid Project would offer more time for teaching about mental and physical health and well being and more support for parents and more staff would also be involved in mental health advice, guidance and signposting. 

 

The mental health advocates from each school were also part of an online forum which met on a regular basis to share resolutions and discuss best practice.

 

Members considered if the impact on children’s mental health would be long term and it was noted that the vast majority of children with nurturing and care would bounce back and be resilient but young people would continue to experience self isolation due to positive Covid cases for some time to come and mental health support measures would continue to be offered. 

 

The Chair thanked the Assistant Director of Education for the informative report and for attendance at the meeting.

 

 

 

Supporting documents: