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When I became Children’s Commissioner, one of my first actions was to carry out The Big Ask survey. I wanted to understand, as we were emerging from the shadow of the pandemic, what children wanted for their futures, and what worries were holding them back. It was clear from the responses to that survey, as well as from the conversations I have had with children, that good mental health is of paramount importance to England’s children. They are able to talk about their feelings and struggles with a level of eloquence and confidence that escapes many adults.

And while I was delighted to find that most children were happy with their lives, there were far too many who were unhappy.  1 in 5 children were unhappy with their mental health. And it is older teenage girls who I worry most about – nearly 2 in 5 of 16–17-year-old girls were unhappy with their mental health.

This is why I have made children’s health and wellbeing a key pillar of my work as Children’s Commissioner. When I think about children’s mental health it is clear to me that we need to think holistically about a child. So much of a child’s wellbeing will be down to things such as their relationships with family and friends, their participation in education, or their experiences of the online world. That is why a preventative approach is essential, and why mental health cuts across all areas of my work – to place family at the heart of policy making in my Family Review, to drive 100% attendance in schools, or to make the Online Safety Bill the best it can be.

But there is also, of course, a need for the right treatment to be in place. That is why in this report I dig into the data to understand what is happening in children’s mental health provision. This data is the first available since services were widely re-opened after the pandemic and shows a surging demand for help. The welcome progress that has been made in recent years on improving children’s access to the right support is struggling to keep up with this demand – with waiting times increasing in the first time in years.

It is vital that this support is made available – not just to allow children the chance to recover and go on to achieve all that they want to, but also because without support, things can end up in crisis.

My team have spoken to children living in mental health inpatient settings who say time and again that if only the right help had been there earlier on, they wouldn’t have ended up in hospital. But too many children still are ending up in hospital, and again there seems to be a particular issue for older teenage girls. 71% of detentions of children under the Mental Health Act are of girls.

It is my aim for no child to live in an institution. These settings struggle to provide the kind of caring, familial environment that children desperately need. And in the last year we have seen that in some cases they can be dangerously unsafe – as the tragic deaths Nadia Sharif, Christie Hartnett and Emily Moore while they were in inpatient mental health care show. And I am if anything even more worried about the rapidly growing number of children being deprived of liberty in other types of settings – where no official data tells us where they are living, or how long for.

That is why I want to see every child getting the right support in their community, as soon as they need it. Because as one girl in hospital so rightly put it ‘The best place to get better is at home’.