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Teachers fear for pupils’ mental health as they return to school next week

A survey carried out by the two largest children’s charities in Wales has revealed that 85% of school staff fear their pupils’ mental health has been affected by lockdown.

Fewer than one in five of them (18.5%) said they felt they had the skills necessary to support their pupils when they return to school, according to the survey of 200 staff by Barnardo’s Cymru and Action for Children Cymru.

More than 70% of those surveyed called for extra training for staff and the same proportion said they would need help with their own mental health and well-being. Some teachers said they had found supporting children at home on the phone each day emotionally draining and expected to return to school feeling exhausted.

Barnardo’s Cymru and Action for Children Cymru have welcomed the Welsh Government’s decision to invest in more school-based counselling to help pupils affected by lockdown. But they have called for an urgent increase in family support services, working in partnership with schools, to prevent long-term mental health problems among children and young people.

Sarah Crawley, Director of Barnardo’s Cymru, said: “The Covid-19 outbreak has exposed children and young people to an unprecedented level of trauma, loss and adversity.

“Schools will have a huge role to play in the rebuilding of communities as we exit lockdown. Investment in multi-agency working will be the key to success as schools will need support to cope with the increased demands on them.”

Brigitte Gater, national director for Action for Children Cymru, said: ‘Our report’s findings reflect the experience of our frontline key workers during the coronavirus pandemic who report families, already under significant pressure, seeing wages dry up and battling to keep food on the table while trying to educate and motivate their children at home.

“The impact on families has been profound and now children face going back to school in a greatly changed environment.

‘It is vital that schools do not face the consequences of lockdown alone and have a comprehensive package of early intervention and support for children who have experienced challenging circumstances and in many cases, severe hardship.”

The charities have called for extra funding to set up family support hubs in partnership with schools in deprived areas where the effects of the pandemic have been felt the most. They would offer early intervention for families ranging from emotional wellbeing and resilience to practical household management and signposting to services that can help those struggling financially.

Evidence shows that if families don’t get early support their children can suffer long term mental health problems, as witnessed after Hurricane Katrina and the Christchurch earthquake.

The charities also want to see extra-curricular activities for pupils in deprived areas to help them catch up with their learning and development.

Barnardo’s Cymru and Action for Children Cymru have produced a report ‘Lessons from lockdown’ based on findings from their survey and interviews with frontline staff working in services supporting children, young people and families.

It warns that pupils affected by trauma could demonstrate a wide range of reactions, including behavioural changes, emotional distress, grief, attention difficulties, academic failure, nightmares and stress.

Sarah Crawley said: “We know that some children will have been exposed to poverty, domestic violence, parental conflict or child abuse for the first time. We also know that, without early intervention, this trauma and adversity can lead to long term mental health problems.”
Brigitte Gater said: “We want Welsh Government, local authorities and third sector providers to work together to mitigate the effects of a public health crisis that could taint the lives of our children for many years to come.’

Barnardo’s Cymru and Action for Children Cymru are calling for a stronger frontline response including:
• An improved frontline response to safeguarding and mental health issues with schools and family support services working closer together.
• Support with food poverty, managing household finances, digital exclusion and signposting for support with housing and welfare.
• Additional enrichment activities outside school hours, remotely or otherwise, to support children’s learning and broader family support including respite, emotional support and building resilience.
• Additional therapeutic support for families of younger children and, when feasible within health restrictions, making play therapy available to children where this isn’t currently available. Evidence suggests that younger pupils are at higher risk of experiencing longer term adverse impacts, particularly if their families have struggled during the pandemic.
Lessons from lockdown can be read in full here:
• English: www.barnardos.org.uk/sites/default/files/uploads/lessons-from-lockdown-supporting-vulnerable-children-young-people-returning-school-learning-english.pdf

• Welsh: www.barnardos.org.uk/sites/default/files/uploads/lessons-from-lockdown-supporting-vulnerable-children-young-people-returning-school-learning-welsh.pdf

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