Mental health network

Children’s Commissioner reveals millions of children living in ‘high risk’ environments

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The Children’s Commissioner has published a report calling for action to protect millions of vulnerable children.

The Commissioner, Anne Longfield OBE, brings together all available public records to identify the total number of children in England who are ‘vulnerable’ because of their health, wellbeing or domestic environment.

The report estimated that there are 800,000 children experiencing mental health difficulties. This is one of the largest vulnerable groups identified in the report, behind the 1.48 million children with physical health problems and 990,000 who receive special educational needs and disabilities support. Some 10,000 children have severe or complex mental health needs for which they receive Tier 4 services.

Worryingly, the national picture is not always clear. The report warns is that the data is likely to underestimate the scale of the problem as many children’s needs go unreported and are therefore ‘invisible’. There are also problematic gaps in the recording of data. For example, there are no official records for the number of children held in mental health detention, and little is known about those children who experience trauma and abuse which isn’t reported to social services.

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Mental Health Network said: 

"The Children’s Commissioner has helped shine a light on the one in ten children who we know face a mental health problem. And we know that, if they aren’t dealt with, these problems are likely to worsen into adulthood. Earlier help to tackle problems in childhood can be the key to unlocking better outcomes across the life course while reducing the burden on the system.

There has been huge progress in the way mental health is recognised in our national discourse. It was mentioned more times than any other condition across all party manifestos before the recent election. We now need to make sure that we get children’s mental services right and offer effective support to families and in schools to give children a better start in life."

The Mental Health Network has called on government to:

  • Help families through evidence-based parenting programmes
  • Support all schools to protect and promote every child and young person’s mental health
  • Improve and speed up access to children’s mental health services
  • Reduce inequalities in mental health outcomes among children and young people

Read the Commissioner’s report here.


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