Coronavirus: 'More children need mental health support'

A woman holding a child's hands Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption One primary school says it has referred more pupils to counselling services since lockdown

The reopening of schools in Wales for the last three or four weeks of term confirmed more pupils need support for their mental health, teachers say.

Primary and high school teachers have told the BBC that some children had become more vulnerable in lockdown.

One primary school in Carmarthenshire said it had referred more pupils to counselling services.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams has said worries about children's well-being were behind the move to reopen.

"It has been like three Christmas days for the children," says Zoë Jermin-Jones, assistant head teacher at Ysgol Brynsierfel, a primary school in Llwynhendy, near Llanelli.

"So much work went in for so little time, but it was really worth it."

Image copyright Ysgol Brynsierfel
Image caption Ysgol Brynsierfel, pictured before lockdown, has been recognised for its work improving pupils' mental health

But the school, which has been recognised for its work improving pupils' well-being, has referred many pupils to a counselling service.

These sessions went ahead over Zoom, and Ms Jermin-Jones said pupils who had not needed support before lockdown had now received counselling.

"Some had developed unusual phobias. One girl started fearing holes," she says.

"She had been a happy-go-lucky, confident little girl sailing through life. But she went into her shell unexpectedly.

"She started getting nightmares about awful things. She just worried so much about the country locking down."

She added: "You would never had thought she would need help before this."

And secondary schools have seen a similar pattern.

Image copyright Google
Image caption Ysgol Garth Olwg in Pontypridd has seen a rise in pupils considered vulnerable

Despite the positive effect of seeing their friends again, increased vulnerability has been evident at Ysgol Garth Olwg in Pontypridd.

"What we've seen is that we now have a new group of vulnerable children who weren't vulnerable before," explained assistant head teacher Aled Rogers.

The school asked pupils to fill out a well-being questionnaire, and the results suggest more pupils needed help.

Their biggest worry was falling behind with school work, but others had new social anxieties about how to behave due to coronavirus.

Mr Rogers said the school had recognised the need and was providing more well-being support, including counselling.

Image copyright Ysgol Garth Olwg
Image caption Some Garth Olwg pupils had said they felt anxious about how they should behave due to coronavirus

"So when they come back in September, we hope they will feel in a better place to return to school," he added.

Barnardo's Cymru said it had greatest concern for children from more deprived families.

"We know things are going to get worse with regards to the economy, which will impact on these families," said Menna Thomas, assistant director of policy.

Ms Thomas said research on the impact of natural disasters on children's mental health showed the most effective way to help children recover from trauma was to help the whole family.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Helping families through the crisis is the best way to protect children, says Barnardo's Cymru

Looking at cases such as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, or the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, she said this helped children recover faster.

The Welsh Government has announced a total of £5m in funding since April to help with children's mental health.

At the time, Ms Williams said: "The coronavirus is inevitably causing additional anxiety for people of all ages, not least children and young people.

"We must therefore anticipate increased demand for mental health support among younger people."

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