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Surge in children with mental health problems seen by councils during pandemic

The number of children with mental health problems seen by social workers has surged by a quarter since before the coronavirus pandemic, amounting to nearly 1,500 kids presenting to councils every week, the Local Government Association is warning.

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There were 77,390 children who had been assessed as having a mental health need by councils on 31 March 2021, an increase of 25 per cent on the 61,830 seen two years earlier.

The figures are revealed ahead of Children’s Mental Health Week which begins on Monday.

The LGA, which represents 350 councils across England and Wales, says they show the devastating impact of COVID-19 on some young people, with successive lockdowns and school closures harming young people’s mental wellbeing exacerbating existing mental health challenges for young people.

It is warning the number of children with mental health problems could continue to sharply grow, underlining the need for children’s social care services to be adequately funded, as part of a child-centred recovery from the pandemic, and the importance of early intervention to prevent a child or young person reaching crisis point.

Councils have a lead role to play in promoting good mental health and tackling mental ill health. Sufficient funding is needed for councils to meet all existing and new demand for children’s mental health support which has been built up during the pandemic, including preventative mental wellbeing work that can stop the escalation of mental health needs.

This comes as soaring demand to protect children will see future costs in children’s social care increase by an estimated £600 million each year until 2024/25, with more than 8 in 10 councils already in the unsustainable position of having to overspend their budgets.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:

“Councils have grave concerns over the growing mental health needs of children and young people, which have been worsened by the pandemic.

“As these figures show, hundreds of children every week are seen by social workers because they need help with their mental health and we expect these numbers to grow as the full impact of the pandemic is felt.

“This reinforces the importance of fully funding the whole system of children’s mental health support, including councils and the NHS, to make sure that children get the help they need, when they need it. That includes early help to prevent children reaching crisis point.

“Councils want to be able to provide the very best support for children, which is we are urging government to work with councils on a child-centred, cross-government pandemic recovery plan which offers the very best future for children and families.”

Notes to editors

Department for Education statistics show the number of cases where social workers recorded mental health problems as a factor in a child having support needs. These were on 31 March 2019: 61,830; 31 March 2020: 75,740, and 31 March 2021: 77,390.

Children in need and child protection: government statistics