BLOG: Tackling mental health challenges & SENDAt the start of Children's Mental Health Week, NASS CEO Claire Dorer reflects on why there is a need for greater support for children and young people with SEND - financial, structural and evidential.


A long time ago, in a world before NASS, I started my career by working as an assistant child psychologist in Birmingham. An interest in children’s mental health has stayed with me since then, through a research role exploring child and adolescent self-harm through to a Knowledge Transfer Partnership between NASS and the University of Northampton helping schools to ‘make sense’ of mental health.

Children’s Mental Health Week (5th-11th February) is a great opportunity to think about the specific challenges faced by children and young people identified as having Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). As recently published figures suggest that the incidence of mental health problems in children has doubled in recent years, what is the position of children with SEND?

Perhaps surprisingly, there is relatively little research that looks at the incidence of mental health problems in children with SEND but Emerson et al (2007) suggested children with SEND are up to 4.5 times more likely to develop a mental health problem than their peers.

Despite the increased incidence, services specifically for children with SEND and mental health needs are limited with demand far outstripping supply. Often, it's schools who fill the gap by putting in support in-house. Arguably, the decision to make Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs a SEND category in the 2014 reforms has added confusion to the mix – is mental health an educational need, a health need or a universal human need? Schools operate in an uncertain world without a national framework setting out the most effective interventions for different children or standards of delivery for these.

Necessity isn’t always the mother of invention but in the case of mental health support, schools have worked hard to develop creative, personalised and responsive approaches to children’s mental health needs. This week is a great chance to celebrate all the inspirational work that goes on in our schools. Last year, NASS commissioned Sonnet Impact to research the value of SEND provision. One of our most striking findings was the huge difference to outcomes addressing mental health needs makes in special schools. For many children, it makes the difference between being able to access education and being out of school. It’s also heartening to see many schools recognise the vital role that staff wellbeing plays in children’s mental health – well supported staff support children well.

This week we will join others in calling for more support for children’s mental health – financial, structural and evidential. It really is the strongest investment we can make in children’s futures and we owe it to children to get it right.