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Is your child’s school doing enough to safeguard their mental health during lockdown?

Is your child’s school doing enough to safeguard their mental health during lockdown?

Is your child’s school doing enough to safeguard their mental health during lockdown?

1-7 February 2021 is Children’s Mental Health Week, which feels more relevant than ever during the current COVID-19 lockdown that has put a strain on so many people’s mental health.

There’s no question that the cycle of lockdowns and general disruption to children’s education during the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative effect on young people’s mental health. Adding to the general fear and stress caused by living through the pandemic, this is causing a real risk of long-term damage to children’s wellbeing.

A recently published study showed a 48% increase in reported cases of probable mental health problems in 5-16 year olds in July 2020 versus 2017. The study found that over a quarter of children (aged 5-16) and young people (aged 17-22) reported difficulty sleeping, while one in ten children and young people often or always felt lonely. Nearly one in five were afraid to leave the house due to COVID-19.

Given how common these issues are, it is something all parents should be aware of. If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, it is important to know about the obligation schools have to safeguard children’s mental health and make sure you are confident that your child’s school is doing enough to support them during this difficult time.

What obligation do schools have to support children’s mental health?

The Department of Education set out the responsibility schools and colleges have towards children’s mental health in the 2020 version of their Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) guidance notes.

The KCSIE guidance notes make clear that, amongst other requirements, schools and colleges have an obligation to:

  • Prevent impairment of children’s mental health
  • Take action to enable all children to have the best outcomes

This obligation applies to all young people under the age of 18 and all staff of an educational institution share responsibility for meeting this obligation. While this guidance is geared towards children at risk of neglect and abuse, it does affirm schools and colleges legal duty to protect children’s mental health.

This is covered further in the Department of Education’s Mental Health and Behaviour in schools guidance notes, which cover the following key points:

  • School should: “ensure they have clear systems and processes in place for identifying possible mental health problems”
  • “Schools need to be alert to how mental health problems can underpin behaviour issues in order to support pupils effectively”
  • “When schools suspect a pupil has a mental health problem, they should use the graduated response process (assess – plan – do – review) to put support in place”
  • “Schools should ensure they have clear systems and processes in place for early intervention and identification, referral to experienced skilled professionals, and clear accountability systems”

There are four basic steps schools should take to minimise the risk of children developing mental health issues and to support those that do. These are:

Prevention – creating an environment “where mental health problems are less likely”.

 Identification – recognising mental health issues “as early and accurately as possible”.

 Early support – helping students to “access evidence based early support and interventions”.

 Access to specialist support – working with external mental health services to “provide swift access or referrals to specialist support and treatment”.

A school or college that follows these steps should, in theory, significantly reduce the number of children experiencing mental health issues and make sure that those who do get appropriate support as quickly as possible.

What can you do if you believe your child’s school isn’t doing enough to protect their mental wellbeing?

Should you have concerns that your child’s school is not doing enough to support their mental health, whether in general or due to a specific concern you have, the best first step is usually to raise the issue in a firm but non-confrontational way. This should normally either be with your child’s tutor, head of year or the school’s safeguarding team.

It is a good idea to keep a record of any contact you have with your child’s school about this matter, such as emails, phone calls and face-to-face conversations, including who you spoke to, what was discussed and the time and date of the conversation. Working by email can make this easier.

If you are unhappy with your school’s response, it may be necessary to contact a specialist in education law for guidance on what next steps you can step. The Education Law team here at IBB Law will be more than happy to advise you on this issue.

What children’s mental health support is available outside of school?

There are various resources available to support children experiencing mental health issues, as well as their parents or carers.

Children’s Mental Health Week is a good place to start, with a list of free resources that schools, colleges, children, parents and carers can access.

The NHS website has a dedicated children and young people’s mental health services (CYPMHS) page with a list of additional support options.

YoungMinds offers free confidential online and telephone support for children and young people up to the age of 25, as well as for anyone concerned about a young person’s mental wellbeing.

If you have serious concerns about your child’s mental wellbeing, you should speak to your GP as soon as possible. While many people are, understandably, trying to limit the strain on the NHS at this difficult time, if you believe your child needs specialist help, please do not feel like you should not contact your GP. Mental health issues can become very serious if not addressed swiftly and effectively.

Consult our expert education law solicitors about securing the right mental health support for your children

At IBB Law, we are passionate about protecting children’s mental health as we have seen the damage that can be done if young people do not receive the right support during such a critical stage in their lives.

Our education law solicitors have extensive experience in the various types of assistance children need for their development, including around mental health. IBB Law Consultant Salima Mawji has been recognised as one of the UK’s leading experts in education law, so we can provide assurance that your child’s wellbeing is being defended by the very best.

We offer an initial consultation for a fixed fee of £250 + VAT to discuss your child’s situation and provide clear, practical advice on the steps we can take to get them the support they need. This can take place over the phone or via video conferencing to suit you.

To book your initial consultation or to find out more about how we can help with safeguarding your children’s mental health, please contact Salima Mawji.