Liz May: Vulnerable children on Holyrood agenda

Politicians should make Scotland one of the best places in the world for vulnerable children to grow-up.
Politicians should make Scotland one of the best places in the world for vulnerable children to grow-up.
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With less than two months to go until the Holyrood election the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition has published its Manifesto, highlighting its vision of how we can make Scotland one of the best places in the world for vulnerable children and young people to grow up in.

One of the central challenges, as highlighted in the Manifesto and an issue the Coalition has been campaigning on for some time, is the need for much greater support for children and young people identified as having Additional Support Needs (ASN). More than 153,000 children and young people in Scotland are classed as having ASN, with this disproportionately affecting those from lower income families and areas of deprivation. If we are to address the attainment gap, a priority for all political parties, addressing the needs of those with ASN is critical.

Scotland needs not only increased investment in services for those with ASN, but more funding to promote awareness and greater support for young people as they transition into employment and training.

Another key focus in our manifesto is children and young people’s mental health. Research indicates one in ten children and young people have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem and 75 per cent of children and young people experiencing a mental health problem are thought to not access any treatment. Some groups are even more vulnerable; for example, circa 50 per cent of looked-after children and more than 70 per cent of children with autism develop mental health problems.

A lack of resources, however, means that Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are overstretched and unable to adequately address greatly increased demand. A high proportion of services do not meet their 18-week target for referrals for initial assessment appointments and children and young people may then have to wait just as long again for a further appointment – that is if they are accepted for treatment. This is unacceptable.

So as well as the need to increase resources to CAMHS, we must also ensure greater investment in early intervention, prevention and education so we can reduce the need for CAMHS referrals in the first place. If we can get it right this will go a long way to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of Scotland’s children and young people.

In the run-in to the Holyrood election we urge all candidates and political parties to engage with the important issues highlighted in the Coalition’s Manifesto.

Liz May is national coordinator at Action for Sick Children Scotland, amember Scottish Children’s Services Coalition