School counselling in holidays crucial for children’s mental health, says Commissioner’s new report 

Young Advisors lead investigation into mental health

Children should be able to access school counsellors outwith school hours and during the holidays to combat increasing mental health issues, according to a new investigation by teenagers. 

Young Advisors to the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland used the office’s powers of investigation to examine the provision of counselling services in secondary schools. It is believed to be the first time young people anywhere in the world have used a children’s commissioner’s legal powers to lead an investigation. 

The group of Mental Health Investigators – aged between 14 and 17 and from all over Scotland – worked with the Commissioner’s staff to plan the investigation, decide what evidence was needed from local authorities, access and evaluate that evidence, and make recommendations.  

The Mental Health Investigators presented their report to the Convenor of the Education, Children and Young People Committee, Sue Webber MSP and Convenor of the Health Committee, Clare Haughey at the Scottish Parliament today. 

Children have the right to the best possible health, including mental health. The Investigators were concerned that already stretched mental health services for children were under even more pressure because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The decision to focus on mental health was also informed by the impact of increased levels of stress and anxiety experienced by children and young people during and after the pandemic. 

Data was requested from all 32 local authorities by summer 2022, but one did not have school counselling services in place until January 2022 so was unable to respond. After examining the evidence from the 31 authorities who responded, the Mental Health investigators have recommended:  

  • All children should have a right of access to counselling at school 
  • Local authorities should ensure that counselling is available outside school hours, during school holidays and outside school premises, on request   
  • Scottish Government should expand school counselling provision to all primary and special schools in Scotland 
  • All local authorities should have clear waiting times for children who want to access services, and information should be child-friendly 

Mental Health Investigator Rebecca said: “The process of advising the office in the Mental Health investigation has been much more than a tokenistic, quick survey of how young people feel. We, as school-aged young people, were involved in every decision made and I feel as though the findings of this investigation represent the broad range of experiences of young people across Scotland – good and bad.” 

Mental Health Investigator Izzy said: “School counsellors are super important as it allows young people with mental health issues to get the help they need quickly without having to wait years, or not get support until their condition deteriorates to an extremely unsafe level. 

“There’s been a lot of talk about youth mental health crises and how services aren’t good enough to cope with increasing demand, so being able to discuss school counselling and highlight potential strong and weak points meant that we could play a part in helping the government and local authorities try to improve their services.” 

Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, said: “All children have the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including mental health, and they must have access to services to support this. A lack of timely access to support can seriously impact on children’s rights to health and development, and at its most severe, their right to life.  

“It was hugely important to me as Commissioner that I gave over the powers of investigation to the Mental Health Investigators. I believe this to be a world-first for children’s commissioners and it should inspire people in power to look at their own processes and consider how meaningful the outcome could be if they stand alongside children and young people and support them to lead on issues that affect them.   

“Children and young people have consistently told us they want more mental health support in schools from trusted adults. Our report calls for local authorities to use resources in the best way to support children before they are in crisis. Our Mental Health Investigators have done an amazing job using legal powers to look at an extremely important issue. The Scottish Government should use this report to involve children and improve mental health provision in schools.” 

Notes for editors

  • Read Mental Health: Counselling In Schools
  • In September 2018, the Scottish Government promised to invest over £60 million in additional school counselling services across all of Scotland, creating 350 school counsellors ensuring that every secondary school has counselling services”. In May 2020, the Scottish Government committed to provide access to ”high quality and effective counselling support” through schools for children aged ten and over, in partnership with local government and with “full delivery expected by September 2020”.   
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