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Mental Wellbeing

Volume 623: debated on Monday 20 March 2017

3. What steps her Department is taking to encourage the development of resilience in children through curricular and extracurricular activities to promote mental wellbeing. (909321)

Good mental health and wellbeing are a priority for the Department, which is why we have funded guidance and lesson plans to support schools in teaching pupils about emotional wellbeing. Our recent plans to make relationships education and relationships and sex education statutory supports that agenda. Pupils can also develop soft skills, including resilience, through activities such as the National Citizen Service and the cadet expansion programme.

Young people’s mental health is a growing concern. As with physical health, we must look at prevention as well as treatment. Will my hon. Friend the Minister meet me to discuss what more the Department for Education can do to encourage our schools to build resilience in children?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that prevention is vital. We are currently inviting bids to run a trial to provide sound evidence about what works to promote good mental health in schools. Prevention will also be an important focus of the mental health Green Paper that we intend to publish later in the year. I will of course meet my hon. Friend to discuss her question, and I am sure that, once the Green Paper has been published, we’ll meet again.

Is the Minister aware of the crisis in child mental healthcare in Cumbria? Does he agree that greater investment to equip teachers to help with preventive measures in the classroom is essential if we are to make children’s lives better in the longer term and not store up huge problems for the future?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to link schools with mental health services better. One piece of work that is currently under way is on creating single points of contact in schools. We are working with child and adolescent mental health services so that not only can children be referred more quickly to the services they need, but teachers can be trained to spot the signs and deal with them effectively within the school environment. Nevertheless, there is, of course, a lot more work to do.

Parents who have children with autism have told me that they have great difficulty accessing curricular and extracurricular activities. What more can be done to link up CAMHS and schools to ensure that there is a crossover of information so that these conditions can be managed better?

As I said in the answer I just gave to the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), we are working with NHS England and CAMHS to make sure that they can better support and work alongside schools through a single point of contact, so that they can not only spread knowledge and good practice but make quicker referrals to the more specialist services when necessary. There is a strong commitment from the Government in this area, supported by the Prime Minister, and we intend to make good progress.

The Minister may be aware of a recent report in The Lancet stating that as many as 35,000 children are born every year with pre-natal exposure to alcohol, which has a significant impact on schools. What are his plans to ensure that school staff have the necessary training to understand the behavioural and educational needs of those children?

I am well aware of the effects of foetal alcohol syndrome. I saw them for myself as I was growing up in some of the foster children whom we looked after. I know it is a cause that the hon. Gentleman has been strongly advocating. Changes to teacher training and to teachers’ standards has meant that much greater emphasis is placed on ensuring that teachers are skilled in special educational needs, of which foetal alcohol syndrome is part, but of course it is what happens on the ground that is important, and we will continue to do what we can to ensure that that practice improves.