Today, I am publishing a report ‘A Head Start: Early support for children’s mental health’, which sets out my vision for children’s mental health. It is founded on the views and voices of children and young people, and is our formal submission to the Government’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan Consultation on improving children’s care. Based on these views, this report also sets out my vision for how children can be supported to promote good mental wellbeing, and get the help they need when problems emerge, every time.
The reason this is a priority for me, is because children told me it was a key priority for them – England’s children care deeply about their mental health and wellbeing. Last year, in The Big Ask, my survey of over half a million children, children wrote about their hopes and dreams for the future, and what they need to help them achieve those goals. While most children were happy or fine, 1 in 5 were worried about their mental health and it was children’s biggest worry overall. The issue is also more acute amongst older teenage girls, with around 2 in 5 16–17-year-olds reporting that they feel unhappy with their mental health. They were also clear that even if they weren’t suffering from a mental health condition, being, and remaining, mentally healthy was a key focus for them. That’s why I have made children’s health and wellbeing a key pillar of my work as Children’s Commissioner.
Based on my conversations with children, I have proposed six ambitions that should be implemented to improve children’s mental health and provide early support:
- Ambition 1. Every family receives support to promote good mental health and wellbeing through pregnancy and the early years through Family Hubs, including mental health support for parents where needed.
- Ambition 2. All children are protected from harm and taught the digital skills they need to be safe online, making the online world safe and exciting place for children to have fun, learn and connect with others, and all.
- Ambition 3. All children have plentiful access to safe and fun spaces to play with their friends.
- Ambition 4. All children’s needs are met where they are and they receive support in school, through families of schools.
- Ambition 5. The taboo of accessing support needs to be broken by making sure children can access it quickly, locally, in their communities or online.
- Ambition 6. Specialist NHS support is available for any child who needs it, with no child turned away or stuck in a spiral of escalation whilst waiting for support.
It is my mission as Children’s Commissioner that these ambitions go beyond words and become reality. As this report shows, this is a generation of children and young people who both understand the concept of mental health and know best about what will benefit them. In the wake of the pandemic, it is more crucial than ever that we take the time to listen to them and give them the support they need.