The Children's Commissioner published their most recent report yesterday, the 25th of May 2023, shedding light on the concerning reality faced by many of our looked after children who, for various reasons, are not in school.
Dame Rachel De Souza, the Children's Commissioner, articulates her growing anxiety about "groups of particularly vulnerable children who are missing out on the opportunities a good education provides: not just in outcomes and grades, but in life experience, mental wellbeing and stability". The gravity of these words underscores the urgency of the issue; one that extends beyond just the academic arena, and highlights the impact on the overall mental and emotional wellbeing of these young individuals.
The NCPS firmly believes that our campaign for Access to Counselling for Every Child is a pivotal step in supporting these children. Offering consistent, accessible mental health support empowers these children and young people, giving them a lifeline that doesn't rely on their ability to attend school.
The report's findings emphasise this point. It highlights that children with emotional and mental health needs are among the most likely to be absent from school, particularly among looked after children. This, in turn, reinforces the importance of ensuring that mental health provision reaches these children where they are, and it is therefore essential to develop and maintain support structures that are resilient to the changing circumstances of these children, such as multiple care placements in a year.
De Souza's assertion that "attendance is everyone's business" signifies that collective action and cooperation are necessary in tackling this crisis. The responsibility for delivering essential emotional and mental health support falls on the shoulders of those responsible for mental health provision in our society. It's not enough to have resources available – they need to be accessible and effective. Every child, regardless of their situation, should have access to the mental health support they need.
There's no question that providing stable and consistent therapeutic relationships for these children, irrespective of their changing living situations, is crucial for their wellbeing. Mental health providers have a duty to ensure that these vulnerable children are not lost in the shuffle, forgotten, or left behind.
Emotional and mental health issues are found to be predominant among children most likely to be absent from school. This pattern is particularly pronounced among looked after children, affirming the pressing need for accessible, ongoing therapeutic interventions.
The report finds that a higher number of care placements in a year is linked with school non-attendance. These children often lack long-term, supportive relationships, making the availability of a consistent, therapeutic bond essential to their development and mental wellbeing, regardless of their frequently changing circumstances.
In line with the findings and recommendations of the Commissioner's report, we urge for support to enable children with vulnerabilities to thrive in school. This goal is inherently tied to the availability of counselling services for all children, regardless of their school attendance.
Meg Moss, Head of Policy & Public Affairs at the NCPS, says that "there is real progress towards providing mental health support in every school, and that's heartening to hear; but what about those children and young people who simply can't make it into school because they're too anxious, or too depressed, or perhaps school isn't a safe space for them or somewhere they feel comfortable and confident accessing mental health services? These are the young people who actually need support for their mental health the most. By giving them the opportunity to see a counsellor in, for example, their local GP surgery, or a mental health hub, or even online, you're opening up the possibility for them to get the support they need. By doing that work first, perhaps we can give them the tools they need in order to return to school and really make the best of their education".
It's evident that the current situation is one that demands urgent attention and action. At the National Counselling & Psychotherapy Society, we firmly believe that Access to Counselling for Every Child can play a fundamental role in addressing this issue, and that by supporting the mental and emotional wellbeing of these children in an appropriate and timely manner, enabling an ongoing relationship between the child and their therapist, we can empower them to make the most of the opportunities that education provides, improve their quality of life, and give them the possibility of a brighter future.