Tomorrow, we will mark World Health Day – which this year is celebrating the theme of ‘Health for All’.
Children’s health has been a core pillar of my work since carrying out the Big Ask survey, in which children frequently raised how important being physically and mentally healthy was for them. It is the foundation on which everything else builds – children need good health to engage in education, participate in their communities, and go on to achieve all their ambitions as adults.
Last month I published my annual mental health briefing, which analysed how long children around the country are waiting for mental health support. For the first time I also included in this briefing information about the number of children in inpatient mental health settings, and their experiences of being in those settings. This year I will continue to push for greater ambition on children’s mental health support being in place where they want to receive it – which is so often in schools. Because getting the right support at the right time can help them to thrive, and can also prevent crises from developing. No child should be growing up in an institution, so it is my ambition for every child to get the support in the community that will mean they don’t need to go into hospital. I want to see this community support embedded in reforms to the Mental Health Act, alongside improved protections for those children who are inpatients.
This year however I will also look at children’s access to a wider range of health services, including physical health services, from their very earliest days and months. Because as the Start for Life programme shows, the first days of a child’s life are a vital time to get the right support for babies, parents and carers in place.
Just as children’s health influences all other areas of their life, so too is it in turn influenced by other factors. Children’s experiences of the online world, their ability to participate in sports and activities, and the quality of their relationships with parents and carers all have a profound effect on children’s health.
That is why this year I will look at a range of influences on children’s health as they grow up, including those of vaping, screen time or inappropriate advertising. Children’s health is determined by the society in which they live, so decisions made about these issues must have children’s needs at the forefront.