3. Health And Wellbeing
The COVID-19 Advisory Subgroup on Education and Children's Issues previously highlighted that:
"School closures have an impact on the physical and mental health of children. Evidence suggests that the mental health of adolescents is particularly affected.
Cognitive, social, and emotional developmental outcomes are also at risk, as is physical health."
For that reason, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and young people's health and wellbeing, including mental health, has been foremost in our consideration when developing our response to the pandemic, and will continue to be a priority as we move into the renewal phase.
We are already delivering significant support and resources for children and young people and, moving forward, will continue to embed these approaches to ensure sustained support over the coming months and years. This support should be seen in the context of the Scottish Government's Mental Health Transition and Recovery Plan, published in October 2020, which outlines our response to the mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and contains over 100 actions. The plan is backed by a £120 million Recovery and Renewal fund, and brought the total anticipated spend on mental health in 2021/22 to in excess of £1.2 billion.
Specific support for children and young people already put in place includes:
- Ensuring a focus on support for those children and young people most affected by the pandemic, with a specific focus on improving mental health and wellbeing. For example, we made £15m available to local authorities and up to £5m to national organisations across Scotland to deliver the Summer Offer for children and young people, 'Get into Summer', providing opportunities for children and young people – particularly those from low income households or those with the most complex needs – to socialise, play and reconnect. These activities were aimed at helping children and young people to recover from the pandemic and ultimately to be ready and able to learn in the Autumn. The invaluable contributions of our partners in local authorities, national and local third sector organisations and – crucially – the many people who work most closely with children and young people have been critical to the Programme's success
- We continue to support our local authority partners with £16 million in funding to provide counselling through schools. Our local authority partners have confirmed that access to counselling support services is now in place across Scotland.
- Providing guidance which focusses on the mitigations and support for children and young people's learning, and the need to support children and young people's wellbeing, including during previous periods of school closures. This guidance includes specific consideration of measures to support vulnerable children and young people, support for children and young people with complex additional support needs; and those at risk.
- Ensuring that children and young people in primary schools have free access to healthy and nutritious meals so that they are ready to learn by August 2022. This builds on a previous investment of £51m to ensure the ongoing provision of free school meals during periods of school closures and holidays.
- Increasing Best Start Food funding to £4.50 per week, helping families with children under three to buy healthy foods. Regulations to implement this manifesto commitment came into force on 1 August and clients received their first increased payments in mid-August.
- Distributing £11.25m to local authorities specifically to support their response to the pandemic's impact on children and young people's mental health and wellbeing. Provision is flexible to local need but includes: art-based therapies targeting those not engaged in school and/or finding it hard to leave home; a hybrid online/offline youth work based approach; and digital services.
- Funding of £15m has been provided in 2021/22 to develop Children and Young People's Mental Health and Wellbeing Community Supports and Services. This funding provides new and enhanced community-based services for 5-24 year olds, their families and carers, focused on distress and supporting positive mental health and wellbeing. Examples of new and enhanced services include: closer partnership working with CAMHS to better manage the waiting list experience and to redirect children who would be better supported elsewhere; art- and music-based self-regulation therapies in primary school; and additional support for young carers.
- Funding of £3m has been provided to support targeted youth work services to support children's wellbeing and to engage with children who most need our support.
- Ensuring that sources of quality support from external organisations are available through the Health and Wellbeing Wakelet. This includes materials specific to mental health and wellbeing, such as the Mind yer time and Aye Feel resources which provide sources of support and information for children and young people.
- In partnership with the Mental Health in Schools Working Group, we have developed and published Children and Young People's Mental Health and Wellbeing: A Professional Learning Resource For All School Staff. This resource provides essential learning required to support children and young people's mental health and wellbeing. Although aimed at school staff, the resource is free and available to anyone who wishes to access it. This work complements the earlier guidance and resources published were further enhanced through the publication of the Whole School Approach to Mental Health and Wellbeing framework in August 2021.
- Prior to the pandemic, Education Scotland developed curricular and professional resources, called the 'Compassionate and Connected Classroom and Community', to increase understanding of the impact of ACEs and trauma and help recovery and resilience. These resources and long-standing nurture approaches are crucial to helping support children and young people's recovery following the pandemic, and are linked to the Government ambition for trauma-informed workforce and services as part of the National Trauma Training Programme. As part of this Programme a new training module has been launched (in July 2021) to help any member of the Scottish workforce develop trauma-skilled practice with children and young people.
Further examples of how health and wellbeing is being supported within local authorities include advice and support from educational psychologists, a freephone helpline for young people who are feeling anxious or worried, and the use of 'nurture' approaches to COVID-19 recovery that focus on emotional wellbeing as a priority. In addition to the provision of free school meals, many local authorities are also making sure that no young people have to go without access for free period products even when usual availability in schools and colleges is restricted.
In addition to the actions set out above, we will take the following key next steps to support health and wellbeing and recover from the impacts of COVID-19:
(1) Continue to work with education authorities and schools to embed counselling through schools, as part of delivery of a guarantee of access to mental health and wellbeing support, including counselling services..
(2) Ensure all children have access to quality play in their own community by refurbishing play parks in Scotland during this parliamentary term, backed by £60 million and in line with nationally agreed principles and local priorities based on engagement with children and young people.