Make it mandatory for every UK school to provide counselling for children and young people
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We’re asking the government to place a qualified paid counsellor in every primary and secondary school in the UK. In the UK we are in the midst of a mental health crisis, which is affecting many of our children and young people. According to the Department for Education (DfE), 1 in 10 (850,000) children and young people have a diagnosable mental health condition.’(1) It is thought that 1 in 12 children persistently experience auditory hallucinations (2) and suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in 15-29 year olds, globally (3). In England, more young males than females die by suicide, with rates of 2.4 males to 1 female in under 20 year olds (4).
Despite these startling statistics and their implications, the emotional wellbeing and mental health needs of children are not being met (5). A Freedom of Information (FOI) request made by the NSPCC revealed that schools in England have made a total of 123,713 referrals for specialist help between 2014/15 and 2017/18. 56% of referrals came from primary schools. During 2017/18, there were an average of 183 referrals made per school day. The youngest child referred for help was three years old.
Statistics indicate that one-third of those referred to Child Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) were declined help (6). This isn’t an individual trust or local government issue, but these failures are pervasive throughout our national education and health infrastructure.
When children and young people do not receive the support they need, the effects are real and costly to the children and society as whole. It can mean that children and young people become increasingly unwell. A 2018 survey of 11,000 children found 22% of the girls and 9% of the boys said they had self-harmed in the year prior to the questionnaire (7). Children and young people who are emotionally distressed often have poorer attendance at school, meaning that as well as their ongoing struggles with their mental health, their grades and friendships also suffer, and they often find it difficult to reintegrate back into school without ongoing support. This is important because isolation is a key factor in suicidal ideation (4). Without support, research has shown us that self-harm rates will continue to rise, the rates of suicide attempts will rise and the rates of completed suicide may also rise.
Today children and young people are being told by mental health services that they can’t receive support until they have attempted suicide (8). This is unacceptable. It demonstrates a failure by government to provide our children and young people with the help and support they need, when they need it, before they reach such a crisis point.
In 2016 the government stated they expected all schools to provide counselling services for their pupils (9). The government appears to recognise the detrimental impact of inadequate service provision and recognises the evidence which demonstrates the effectiveness of counselling in reducing psychological difficulties. When evaluating schools-based counselling, school staff and, more importantly, children and young people view it as an effective intervention. It is viewed positively by the whole school community. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) advises that primary and secondary schools should be supported to adopt a comprehensive, ‘whole school approach to promoting the social and emotional well-being of children and young people” (10).
So, what is being done to achieve this goal?
A national roll-out of schools-based counselling has not happened. Scotland plans to introduce 350 counsellors to work in secondary schools over four years and are investing a total of £250 million. This is excellent progress and an example the rest of the UK should follow. However, we want these individuals to be qualified counsellors who are experienced in working with children and young people, rather than trainees or volunteers. The government needs to invest in qualified, properly paid counsellors.
Gaps exist in provision across the country as part of a mental health service which fails to provide adequate early intervention.
In response to this failure, the recent government green paper includes 3 core proposals (1):
1. To incentivise and support all schools and colleges to identify and train a Designated Senior Lead for mental health.
2. To fund new Mental Health Support Teams, which will be supervised by NHS children and young people’s mental health staff.
3. To pilot a four-week waiting time for access to specialist NHS children and young people’s mental health services.
This is an unnecessary and (overtly) bureaucratic response. The focus should be on real therapeutic intervention. If the government’s research into this subject has shown that counselling in schools is what is necessary, why is this not a core proposal? There is no need for red tape and unnecessary positions. What is required are qualified counsellors who can provide therapy and who will work with the existing school infrastructure, such as a safeguarding team, to improve and then maintain a child’s well-being; throughout their school career.
Having a qualified counsellor on site means having a qualified mental health professional on site to respond to a crisis in a timely and appropriate manner. It cuts out all the middle men and the indecision; and the inevitable rejection of children in need by overstretched mental health services. It would also reduce the amount of disruption for the child, their peers and the staff involved with the care of that child at the point of crisis.
The government’s proposal is unnecessarily expensive. There are thousands of qualified counsellors ready and able to take on such roles. Nor is it appropriate or beneficial to have non-clinical staff providing these vital services. It’s also not appropriate nor ethical to train existing members of staff into dual roles. This is not proven to be effective or to encourage children and young people to disclose. A counsellor offers a non-authority figure and a confidential space which promotes disclosure.
So what should the government do?
1. Make placing a qualified paid counsellor in every primary and secondary school a priority.
2. Consult with counselling professionals on how best to move forward and implement these services.
3. Support schools to provide a counselling service by using the money they would otherwise use to train or re-train staff to employ already trained counsellors. Qualified counsellors can take positions with immediate effect and provide long term, evidence-based solutions.
Thank you for taking the time to read this petition and we hope you support us by signing, liking and sharing with others.
Maria Albertsen & Tara Shennan on behalf of Counsellors Together UK (www.ukcounsellors.co.uk)
Maria Albertsen is a qualified and experienced counsellor who has been working with children and young people for 22 years. She has managed young peoples counselling services and set up and delivered successful school based counselling services, working alongside charities and statutory organisations. Maria founded the Facebook group Counsellors Together UK in July 2017 to challenge counsellor exploitation, that is the expectation that counsellors should continue to volunteer and work for free post qualification.
Tara Shennan is a qualified counsellor who has been working with children and young people for 3 years. She is a psychology undergraduate and is researching the impact of exploitation on counsellors’ well-being on behalf of Counsellors Together UK.
1. Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and Secretary of State for Education (2018) Government response to the consultation on Transforming Children and Young Peoples Mental Health Provision; a green paper and next steps. Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Education. Retrieved from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/728892/government-response-to-consultation-on-transforming-children-and-young-peoples-mental-health.pdf
2. Melley, J. (2018, June 8). The children who hear voices. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-44398292
3. World Health Organisation (2018). Suicide Data. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/
4. University of Manchester (2016) Suicide by children and young people in England. National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness (NCISH). Manchester: University of Manchester.
5. NHS Newcastle Gateshead Clinical Commissioning Group (2017) Expanding minds, improving lives: Review of child and adolescent mental health transformation plan 2015-2020. Retrieved from: http://www.newcastlegatesheadccg.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Transformation-Plan-refresh-27-10-16-final.docx-v3.5docx.pdf
6. NSPCC (2018) School referrals for mental health treatment rise by over a third. Retrieved from: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-we-do/news-opinion/one-third-increase-in-school-referrals-for-mental-health-treatment/
7. The Children’s Society (2018) The Good Childhood Report 2018 Summary. Retrieved from: https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/good_childhood_summary_2018.pdf
8. Townsend, M. (2018, May 5). Some children reach the brink of suicide before getting help with mental health, charity warns. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/may/05/children-denied-help-mental-health-attempt-suicide-self-harm-barnardos-local-authority-funding
9. Department for Education (2016) Counselling in Schools: a blueprint for the future. Retrieved from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/counselling-in-schools
10. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2008) Social and emotional wellbeing in primary education. London: National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Retrieved from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph12
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