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With mental health in our schools continuing to worsen, charities are playing a crucial role in supporting tens of thousands of children and young people experiencing difficulties. In doing so, these charities are providing vital, specialised services which improve lives, while setting children up for better longer-term wellbeing. These organisations are also helping to save the Exchequer money on welfare and health provision at a time when the NHS is stretched.

Since 2017, rates of probable mental disorders among primary school-aged children have increased from one in ten to one in six – or up to five children in every classroom.  The pandemic and its resulting changes to day-to-day life have exacerbated the problem; 83% of young people report that the coronavirus pandemic has worsened their mental health. With two-thirds of children with a diagnosable mental health condition unable to access NHS care, many children do not have the support needed to manage their condition.

This has significant short and long-term implications for the children affected as well as for wider society. When children experience mental health difficulties, it can negatively impact their cognitive development and learning as well as their physical and social health.

There is a wealth of evidence linking the state of a child’s mental health to outcomes in adolescence and adulthood. Mental ill health in childhood is linked to an increase in the likelihood of depression in adulthood. Other unfavourable outcomes - including lower employment and earnings, and a higher risk of committing crime, exclusion/truancy, and smoking - are also linked to lower mental health in childhood. In other words, poor mental health in childhood poses significant problems for society. It is therefore in the public interest to make early mental health support and interventions available to all children in need of it.

Place2Be is a children’s mental health charity that works with schools to support pupils, families and staff throughout the UK. It aims to deliver early intervention to give children the ability to cope with challenges, and to advise the people around children on how to support them. Their ‘whole school’ approach includes therapeutic counselling for pupils, working with parents and mental health training for school staff. In this report, we focus on their one-to-one counselling service for primary school children in the UK.

Our analysis suggests Place2Be’s one-to-one counselling service has a positive impact on children’s mental health. We have found that:

  • Children receiving Place2Be’s one-to-one counselling service experience an average 3.5 point reduction in their Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) score. Of this, an average 2.1 point SDQ score reduction is likely to be attributable to Place2Be’s programme.
  • Place2Be’s support could generate an average of £8,700 in economic benefits over the lifetime of the child.
  • Given the programme costs on average £1,100 per child, we estimate it generates around £8 in benefits for every £1 spent.
  • This high benefit-cost ratio was sustained despite the coronavirus pandemic.
  • This means Place2Be’s counselling service in the UK could generate as much as £36 million of lifetime benefits from each academic year of support.

This report finds that support in schools, such as the one-to-one counselling sessions offered by Place2Be, could play a vital role in tackling the children’s mental health crisis in the UK. If a programme similar to Place2Be’s was scaled up to operate across the country, it would likely have significant long-term economic benefits for children and wider society, in addition to the immediate increase in quality of life for the children themselves.

Across the country, policymakers have been taking steps to increase mental healthcare provision to children. The Welsh government pledged in 2020 to double funding to local authorities to ensure that all secondary school and Year 6 pupils have access to in-school counselling services. The Scottish government committed to ensuring that every secondary school has counselling services. Additionally, the UK government has pledged to deliver over 500 NHS Mental Health Support Teams (MHSTs) in schools in England by 2024. However, all these initiatives still leave gaps in primary school provision. We estimate that the intervention in England would only provide support for about 46% of state school pupils.

It is clear that further support will be required if we are to address the growing mental health crisis in our schools. We estimate that, if charity-provided one-to-one counselling were available at all schools in England that aren’t planned to have an NHS Mental Health Support Team (MHST), then it could generate £751m of economic benefits for each year of support.

Charities, such as Place2Be, have a proven track record in delivering services that support children and young people with their mental health. Their experience and expertise should continue to play a vital role in the further roll-out of specialist support within schools.

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