Investigation: Children and young people’s mental health


What does this investigation focus on?

We want to know whether the Scottish Government’s policies, healthcare services and other professional practices are meeting the mental health needs of children and young people in Scotland. The crisis affecting children’s mental health has worsened, deepened by the aftermath of a global pandemic. We believe it is vital to identify the issues that prevent and stunt the provision of adequate mental health services and support for children and young people. To do this, we believe it is essential that we base our solutions to this crisis on the views and experiences of children and young people.

Reasons for investigation?

Children’s mental health services were in crisis before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. Our office received frequent enquiries from young people, parents/carers and professionals about difficulties in accessing diagnoses and support. A 2018 report from the Auditor General for Scotland found that, while children’s mental health was a priority for the Scottish Government, mental health services were under significant pressure; data and evidence, particularly on outcomes, were inadequate; and that a step-change in Scotland’s response to children’s mental health was required.

Getting young people involved!

The Commissioner’s office has assembled a team of Young Investigators to inform and lead the investigation process. They will work together to explore and talk about the issue of mental health, the impact of Covid-19 on children and young people’s mental health and how this impacts their rights.

They are working with the Commissioner’s Advice & Investigations and Strategy teams to explore issues around children and young people’s mental health and the services that are provided.

They will exercise the Commissioner’s legal investigation powers to ensure they can access the evidence they need to make recommendations on what needs to change.  

They expressed the view that they wanted to focus on school counselling. Specifically, to consider whether and to what extent the current model is sufficient to deliver a rights-based approach to mental health provision given the increased need post-pandemic.

How will the investigation take place?

Following discussions with the Young Investigators, the investigation has been broken down into four stages.

  1. Research into Local Authority approaches to the provision of school counsellors
  2. Round table evidence sessions with key senior professionals
  3. Interviews/surveys with school counsellors about their role
  4. Interviews/surveys with children and young people

We intend to report on each stage individually, with a summary report and recommendations at the end of the investigation.

What’s the human rights background to the investigation?

Rights relevant to this investigation are outlined in the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), including:

  • Article 24 says that children are entitled to the highest attainable standard of health and that no child should be deprived of health services.
  • Article 2 says all children have the rights the UNCRC lays out, and no child should be discriminated against.
  • Article 3 says adults should think about the best interests of children and young people when making choices that affect them.
  • Article 6 says all children and young people have the right to survive and the right to develop. It says government should do as much as they can to prevent the deaths of children and young people.
  • Article 12 says that the opinions of children and young people should be considered when people make decisions about things that involve them. Their opinions shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand on the grounds of age. They should be taken seriously, with their evolving capacities taken into account.
  • Article 16 says that children’s rights to privacy and family life should be respected, which includes the right to bodily integrity.
  • Article 23 says children with disabilities should enjoy full lives in an environment that upholds their dignity.
  • Article 4 says the Government must use all of its powers to ensure children’s rights are respected.

Resources and Documentation

We have recently published the Terms of Reference surrounding our investigation into children and young people’s mental health. This document provides notice that the Commissioner intends to use their powers under section 7 of the Commissioner for Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2003 and the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.

It also provides more in-depth information about the reasons for the investigation and the supporting evidence as to why this investigation is necessary.

You can browse or download this document below.

Download Terms of Reference PDF

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