Youngsters should be able to see counsellors outside of school hours and during the holidays, a first-of-its-kind investigation has said, as a way to help combat mental health issues.
The recommendation was part of a report by the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, which had a panel of young advisers use the office’s powers of investigation to examine the provision of counselling services in secondary schools north of the border.
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 – with mental health investigators aged between 14 and 17 working on the report.
They helped with planning the investigation, deciding what evidence was needed from councils, access and evaluate that evidence, and make recommendations.
It has recommended that all children should have a right of access to counselling at school; that local authorities should ensure it is available out-of-hours, during holidays, and outside of school; that the Scottish Government should expand school counselling provision to all primary and special schools; and that councils should have clear waiting times for children who want to access services, and information should be child-friendly.
Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, said that “children and young people have consistently told us they want more mental health support in schools from trusted adults” and that the report called on “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,” he said.
“The Scottish Government should use this report to involve children and improve mental health provision in schools.”
The teenagers involved in the investigation will be presenting their report to the convenor of the Education, Children and Young People Committee, Sue Webber; and convenor of the Health Committee, Clare Haughey, at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.
A Scottish Government spokesman said the “mental health and wellbeing of children and young people” was a priority.
“We have ensured counsellors are available in schools, backed by £16 million in funding, meaning that children can have their mental health needs met earlier,” the spokesman said.
“A range of support is currently available for those needing mental health help and support out of hours, including the NHS 24 Mental Health Hub and Young Scot’s Aye Feel website.
“We would be happy to discuss the Children’s Commissioner recommendations in more detail.”