Mental health issues for children and young people with SEN

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In this issue, Douglas Silas looks at the impact on children and young people mental health issues.

During the past few years (and especially during the past 18 months with the Covid-19 pandemic) we have seen an increase in the number of children and young people with mental health issues. Unfortunately, children and young people with SEN and Disability (SEND) have again been disproportionately affected (although those without SEND have also suffered greatly).

What are mental health issues for children and young people?
Although mental health issues have been recognised for many decades (and some would say for more than a century), it is only during the past few decades (particularly the last ten years or so) that children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing has been identified as a specific issue that needs to be addressed by society.

Unfortunately, older generations often say that mental health issues are really a result of children and young people having it too easy and therefore not being resilient or ‘tough enough’ as they were in their day. This is not a helpful approach and does not take into account the fact that society has inevitably changed over many years and there are now a lot more things around that can have a negative impact on children’s and young people’s mental health (such as social media or online bullying etc.) which have aggravated situations that may have been seen to be more ‘normal’ previously.

What is the current view on children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing?
The Government (through Public Health England), together with the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition) has recently issued Guidance entitled: ‘Promoting Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing’. This points out that it is widely recognised that a child’s emotional health and wellbeing influences their cognitive development and learning, in addition to their basic physical and mental wellbeing in adulthood, as well as their social health. It also says that there is a lot of reference to secondary school-aged children having mental health difficulties, but seems to say that many problems are caused further down the line when children are younger.

The Guidance sets out eight principles that a school or college can take to promote children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. It then considers each principle separately and gives examples, which they say will help the reader reflect on the implications for practice in their own settings. The Guidance also signposts the reader to resources available to help them implement the support and includes references to further government guidance and advice, training for staff, curriculum support and resources for young people, parents and carers.

Finally, the Guidance says that it will be useful to anyone responsible for promoting and supporting the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people in schools and colleges, including:

  • headteachers
  • principals and their senior leadership teams
  • school and college governing bodies
  • senior mental health leads
  • special educational needs (SEN) and pastoral leads
  • school nurses
  • educational psychologists
  • local public health teams

So what does the Guidance say?
A good start would be for me to quote directly from the ‘Rationale’ first, as follows:“Good mental health is important for helping children and young people to develop and thrive.The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England survey (2020) found 16% (1 in 6) of children aged 5 to 16 years to have a probable mental health disorder, an increase from 1 in 9 in 2017.The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in fundamental changes to the lives of children and young people. The Public Health England COVID-19 mental health and wellbeing surveillance report suggests that whilst some evidence shows that children and young people have generally coped well during the pandemic (March to September 2020), other evidence suggests that some children and young people, especially those with certain characteristics, such as those who are disadvantaged economically, females, and those with pre-existing mental health needs, appear to have experienced greater negative impacts on their mental health and wellbeing.

Schools and colleges have an important role to play in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils and students, by developing approaches tailored to the particular needs of their pupils and students. Taking a coordinated and evidence-informed approach to mental health and wellbeing in schools and colleges can also help foster readiness to learn.”

The Guidance is then broken down into eight specific chapters, followed by separate sections entitled ‘Resources’, ‘Appendix’ and ‘References’ and the eight chapters are broken down as follows:

Chapter 1: Leadership and management
Chapter 2: Ethos and environment
Chapter 3: Curriculum, teaching and learning
Chapter 4: Student voice
Chapter 5: Staff development, health and wellbeing
Chapter 6: Identifying needs and monitoring impact
Chapter 7: Working with parents, families and carers
Chapter 8: Targeted support and appropriate referrals

How does this impact on children and young people with SEND?
Although the SEND Code of Practice 2015 brought in under Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014 already provides statutory guidance and practical advice to Local Authorities (LAs) and health bodies (such as Clinical Commissioning Groups [CCGs] and education settings on how to carry out their duties, the 2014 SEND Reforms also included a change from the characterisation of ‘Behaviour, Emotional and Social Development’ to ‘Social, Emotional and Mental Health Needs’.

The Guidance poses one question (of many) about whether a school’s or college’s culture promotes respect, inclusivity and value diversity. Examples are given where children in primary school are taught to embrace and value difference, including having an active anti-bullying policy and promoting cooperative learning and positive social interactions. It also refers to the fact that it is important to note the difficulties which learners may have when they have complex individual needs and face a number of social, emotional and behavioural challenges, which sometimes result in fixed-term exclusions, or even permanent exclusions, that could have been avoided if the school had committed to valuing each individual and their needs. This can sometimes require also quite a big overhaul of standard PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) education.

Where can I find out more?
You can find the Guidance here: https://bit.ly/2YD5CIw

There are specific sections at the back of the Guidance that refer to ‘Resources’ including government guidance and advice, such as:

  • ‘Mental health and behaviour in schools (2018)’ (mainly for school staff)
  • ‘Counselling in schools: a blueprint for the future (2015)’ (mainly for school staff and counsellors)
  • ‘Preventing and tackling bullying (2017)’ (mainly for head teachers, staff and governing bodies)
  • ‘Promoting the health and wellbeing of looked-after children (2015)’ (statutory guidance for LAs, CCGs and NHS England)
  • ‘Keeping children safe in education (2014)’ (statutory guidance for schools and colleges)
  • ‘Supporting pupils at school with medical conditions (2014)’ (statutory guidance for governing bodies of maintained schools and proprietors of academies in England).

There are also sections that refer to ‘Training’ and ‘Curriculum resources’ and specific sections entitled: ‘Resources and support for children and young people with learning disabilities, physical disabilities in chronic illness’ and: ‘Resources for specific issues’.

There are also sections on ‘Helplines and resources for young people’ and ‘Parenting programmes and support for parents and carers’.

Douglas Silas
Author: Douglas Silas

Douglas Silas
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Specialist SEN solicitor Douglas Silas is the Managing Director of Douglas Silas Solicitors.
W: SpecialEducationalNeeds.co.uk
T: @douglassilas
F: @douglassilas

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