“Collateral damage” – the effects of COVID-19 on children and young people

Launched on 9 October ahead of World Mental Health Day on 10 October, the Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education Committee report, Mind over Matter: two years on, calls on the Welsh Government to do much more to help children and young people.

After taking evidence, the Committee believes that while there has been some progress in schools’ approaches to emotional and mental health, changes to improve the situation across all our public services – including in the NHS and local government – are not happening quickly enough. The Committee believes the impact of the current pandemic makes these changes more necessary now than ever before.

On the same day, the Welsh Youth Parliament also launches its report on young people’s emotional and mental health, Let’s talk about Mental Health, after hearing the experiences of many young people across Wales. It too is calling for more mental health support for young people.

Children and young people still struggling to find support

In its Mind over Matter report in 2018, the Committee stated that a big change was needed in the emotional and mental health support and services available for children and young people. The Committee was told by those working with young people that not enough was being done to help children and young people.

Two years on, with the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, the Committee is launching its follow up report which shows that our children and young people are still struggling to find the emotional and mental health support they need, both at an early stage to help prevent problems developing and later, when things have deteriorated and specialist care is needed.

Since its initial Mind over Matter report, the Committee has kept a close eye on the Welsh Government’s work and has monitored how it is implementing its recommendations. The Committee has taken evidence from Ministers, health professionals and young people to inform this follow-up work, and has also drawn on the findings of its ongoing scrutiny of the steps being taken by the Welsh Government to manage the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on children and young people.

We can and must do better

Nikki and Jeff Jones lost their daughter to suicide two years ago. Manon had just turned 16 when she took her own life after suffering prolonged periods of depression. Her death had a profound effect on her family, friends and the wider community in Pontcanna, Cardiff. Since then her parents, and sister Megan, have established the Manon Jones Foundation to offer practical support and information to young people who are struggling with mental health issues as well as to their friends and family.

Manon’s mother, Nikki Jones says:

“As a family we really appreciate the scope of the Mind over Matter report in driving a step change in the emotional and mental wellbeing of children and young people in Wales.

“For us, it’s deeply personal. We have a Manon-sized hole in our lives and the lives of her many friends as they embark on life after school without her. Manon tried so, so hard to stay alive and, had she succeeded, would have made a really great contribution to Wales we truly believe.

“Young people, their families, their friends, their schools, all need help recognising when struggles become overwhelming and, importantly, when and where to go for help. When they access that help it needs to be timely, effective and safe support, wherever they live in Wales.

“Two years on from losing Manon and the publication of the Mind over Matter report, it’s still too complicated, patchy and time-limited. The pace of change achieved does not reflect the fact that the ultimate measure of failure, suicide, is the biggest killer of children and young people. We can and must do better.”

As part of its work on the pandemic, Dr David Tuthill from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health told the Committee:

“Children are probably unlikely to be directly affected by the virus with physical illness.

“What they have been affected by quite greatly is, if I could call it, collateral damage—their schools have been closed, their clubs have been shut, they can’t socialise. All those things have affected children, and they’re very anxious, because there’s a lot of worry about coronavirus, which they’re hearing about—their grandparents might have died, or they’re hearing that thousands of people have died.”

Lynne Neagle MS, Chair of the Children, Young People and Education Committee:

“In 2018 our Mind over Matter report made it clear that we expected to see significant and sustainable change in the support available for the emotional and mental health of children and young people by May 2021.

“While we recognise the pressures placed on the Welsh Government and public services by the coronavirus pandemic, we think the collateral damage caused to our children and young people by this public health emergency means a strong focus on the emotional and mental health of children is more essential than ever. Between now and next May’s election, we will continue to push for change and to hold the Welsh Government to account for its actions in this vital area.

“Our original report said we were not willing to allow this issue to be passed on yet again to a future Committee with repeated conclusions of “more work to be done”. We intend to keep our promise to the people of Wales and do everything we can to ensure that the Welsh Government puts our recommendations into practice.”

With only 7 months until the election and the end of this Senedd, the Committee is calling on the Welsh Government to pick up the pace and prioritise the issue. The Committee outlines:

Change is not happening quickly enough

We know that what we are asking for is not always easy, and we know that money is not unlimited. But we think this is a top priority if we are going to get things right for the generations of children and young people who will shape the future of Wales. More needs to be done to make improvements more quickly.

We need whole-system change to be our focus

We recognise that lots of services are doing lots of really good things to improve the support available for children and young people. But we think that more needs to be done to make sure that every service is doing its bit, and that they all work together. This is vital to making sure that any child or young person – wherever they look for help – can get the support they need.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic makes progress more necessary than ever

While we recognise that children and young people appear to be less susceptible to the coronavirus than adults, there is little doubt that its wider effects―and the measures taken to manage it―have impacted their lives significantly. These wider effects have been described to us as the “collateral damage” to children and young people caused by the pandemic, and include anxiety about periods away from school, clubs, family and friends.

The report – Mind over Matter: two years on – is available here

The Committee, along with those who gave evidence, has looked at each of its recommendations from 2018 and assessed the Welsh Government’s progress. The Welsh Government will now be asked to respond.