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Christian children’s charity advises parents to ‘change the narrative’ to help prevent mental health issues

by Tola Mbakwe

The head of a Christian children’s charity has encouraged parents to be more aware of information their children are exposed to.

Ian Soars, CEO of Fegans, which provides counselling for children, told Premier Christian News that even though the world is going through the coronavirus pandemic, children need assurance of safety and certainty.

“Children need security, they need hope, they need to know that they're safe,” he said.

“A lot of parents are talking about ‘the Government is out of control, schools out of control, we don't know what's happening, the disease might get us all and I’m  frightened, let's not go out’. And actually, that message is going through to children and making them feel unnecessarily vulnerable.

“We can change the narrative to this ‘yes, is a difficult thing out there, but together, we can overcome those challenges’.”

Soars’ comments come as the Children's Commissioner warned mental health services are "nowhere near" to meeting the needs of hundreds of thousands of children struggling through the coronavirus pandemic.

Anne Longfield said there have been some improvements but a lack of ambition from the Government is hindering progress.

It’s the commissioner's fourth annual report on the state of children's mental health services in England.

She said the research, which largely covers the year up to March 2020, reveals a system without the "necessary capacity or flexibility" to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

She added that the "cocktail of risks and stresses" associated with the outbreak, affecting education, friendships and home life, appears to have taken a "very heavy toll" on some children.

A large NHS study in July 2020 found that one in six children have a probable mental health condition, up from one in nine in 2017.

Ms Longfield said the current lockdown and school closures are causing more damage to some children's well-being which could last "potentially for years to come".

Soars told Premier he’s seen concerns in her report reflected at Fegans.

“We've seen a massive escalation, not just in numbers of cases coming into Fegans, but also the complexity,” he said.

“Children are coming in with anxiety or they're coming in with significant mental health disorders. We're seeing that ramp up day by day.”

Soars said those who have a proven track record of giving complex mental health services to vulnerable children are lacking Government funding.

Longfield has urged the Government to have funding ready for mental health services at schools once they reopen in the coming weeks.

"As an absolute minimum, all schools should be provided with an NHS-funded counsellor, either in school or online,” she said.

"We have seen how the NHS has risen to the scale of the Covid crisis for adults. We owe children, who are suffering the secondary consequences of the pandemic, a mental health service that provides the help and support they need."

In the year before the pandemic, referrals to children's mental health services increased by 35 per cent  while the number of children accessing treatment increased by just 4 per cent.

She said a postcode lottery remains around local areas' spending, waiting times, access, and how many children are referred to services and go on to receive support.

But she said improving NHS specialist services is just part of the solution, and is calling for a broader system making use of schools and the voluntary sector.

A Government spokesman said in response to the report: "This has been an exceptionally difficult year and we are absolutely committed to supporting the mental wellbeing of children and young people who have been uniquely impacted by this pandemic.

"Early intervention and treatment is vital, and we are providing an extra £2.3 billion to help an additional 345,000 children and young people access NHS-funded services or school and college-based support.

"Alongside this, we are training a new dedicated mental health workforce to support children in schools and colleges across the country, as well as giving staff the resources to teach what good mental and physical health looks like."

Listen to Premier's interview with Ian Soars here: 


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