OPINION

Recovery from the pandemic must consider our children and young people

This week is the half-term holiday but, for most families in our city, the situation is far from normal. Children and young people are increasingly affected by the pandemic.

This month started with children’s mental health week, reminding us about the hidden cost of covid-19 on the wellbeing of younger generations.

Medical journal “The Lancet” reports that children’s mental health has been severely affected by covid-19, with a sharp rise in conditions compared to previous years.

The study also found that children are also more likely to be facing mental health difficulties living in households newly falling behind with bills, rent or mortgage payments.

We cannot forget that covid-19 has also led to tragic bereavement in families and has seen children cut off from visiting elderly relatives.

It’s clear then that children and young people will need support now and for many years to come.

The health crisis has further exposed the lack of national focus on children’s mental health. Previous government proposals had already been branded unambitious.

One aim, to provide counselling in schools, for example, was revealed as likely to reach just a fifth of areas by 2023 at the earliest.

National funding for children’s mental health services has long lagged behind need – so the crisis hit with little additional capacity for a response.

It’s no surprise that the children’s commissioner Anne Longfield has described it “a poor starting point”, clarifying that services are still nowhere near meeting existing levels of need, never mind that in the future.

While the government has not yet caught up, we know that many parents are anxious about what a return to “normality” will look like for young people.

Schools and nursery provision are of course a key part of this – and although the government has not clarified the conditions for opening schools more fully, we remain committed to ensuring risk is minimised and all of our staff, and families of pupils, are supported.

It’s plain to see that despite the warnings from staff and education unions, there are still huge gaps in the government’s approach.

Earlier on in the pandemic Greens made clear our key priorities for the sector – including access to testing and vaccinations – and we will continue to raise this.

The recovery and renewal of our city has to include our children’s futures – which is why we welcome that more than 40 youth groups and organisations across the city continue to offer support for young people through the covid-19 crisis.

Young people using www.e-wellbeing.co.uk can access emotional health and mental wellbeing, while the brilliant local charity Amaze offers mental health support to children and young people with special education needs and disabilities

And www.brightonandhovewellbeing.org offers counselling and therapy to support mental health and wellbeing.

Greens have been working hard to prioritise families, children and learning services in the council’s budget.

We’ve protected funding for early help services and council nurseries, ensured respite bed provision and are setting up a youth employment hub.

In a few weeks we will publish a recovery plan helping young people access employment and skills and are working on tackling disadvantage among young people, working with community groups.

We know too children and young people are keen for a more equal future – and our budget increases education on racial inequality.

With younger generations most likely to feel the very worst effects of spiralling climate change, our budget increases expenditure on lessening the effects of the crisis.

We want to make sure our city isn’t bounced from the covid crisis straight into climate chaos and that younger generations can look forward to a more sustainable future.

There are still immense challenges for our city’s children and young people and council services have been focused on the response – providing food support, mental health support and working with young people.

This work takes place as government still makes bungled decisions – just this week we have learned schools in our city will miss out on nearly £400,000 of funding for their poorest pupils as a result of government changes to school funding rules.

At a time of unprecedented crisis in education and deepening disadvantage, further funding cuts to already struggling schools is a hugely backward step.

As the half-term break begins, it’s vital that infection rates in our city stay low if we are to suppress the pandemic. With a more contagious new strain, hospital admissions and, tragically, deaths are still much too high.

So I would plead with everyone to carry on staying at home and when you are out to keep your space, wear a mask and wash your hands so that when the time comes, our city’s many services – from libraries to leisure centres, museums, schools and nurseries can fully open to all children once again.

Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty is the Green leader of Brighton and Hove City Council.

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