Mental health, school absence and mentoring: Supporting young people

Many children have struggled to return to school since the pandemic, and MPs on the Commons education committee suggest that mental health difficulties should be a valid reason for children to miss school while fines aimed at parents should be kept as a “last resort”.

The committee’s reported that levels of persistent absence among disadvantaged families is rising in England, and warned that fining parents for absences may counterproductive among low-income families with financial struggles.

The committee also highlighted that mental health support for children is “grossly inadequate”, and that the Department for Education (DfE) need to do more to help disadvantaged children.  They are calling for DfE to create a new category of authorised pupil absences due to mental health difficulties, without requiring families to provide medical evidence.

At present, there are wide regional variations in the levy of fines around the country, usually a fixed penalty notice of £60 per child, as there is not yet a national policy set by DfE.

The use of fines was complicated by the DfE’s failure to set a national policy, leading to wide variations among local authorities over which families are fined and for what reasons.

Robin Walker MP, chair of the committee, said “sky-high waiting lists for children’s mental health services, and some children with special needs not getting the right support quickly enough, are also putting incredible pressure on families and schools”

“The increase in children suffering from mental health problems is deeply troubling and it is evident that our health service can’t meet this growing demand, leaving schools to fill the gaps.”

The committee also highlighted the need for free school meals provision to enable children from families that are struggling financially, but who might not be eligible. It also identified other barriers, such as transport and school uniform costs.

DfE responded by saying “We recently announced an expansion to our attendance hubs and mentors programme, and we are also working closely with schools, trusts, governing bodies and local authorities to identify pupils in need of additional support.”

Many charities around the country are well aware of the issues surrounding school attendance and mental health, but frequently highlight the need for long term funding in order to support young people, to provide a long term relational approach.  Mentoring and after school activities can help a young person to regain their confidence and support their mental health and wellbeing, such as the Sw!tch programme, from Lifeline Projects, a charity based in East London, that has a significant positive impact on children in the area.

Find out more about how mentoring can help to support young people here.