As well as the obvious health consequences, the impact of successive lockdowns, unemployment and long-running furlough schemes has put a never-before-seen level of stress and strain on families, with some parents left unable to work and trying to home-school children, all while trying to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. This has had an unavoidable impact on children, particularly those of primary school age, and sadly we have seen an increase in anxiety levels within this demographic.
Even before the pandemic, children experiencing adverse childhood difficulties were already nearly three times more likely to experience mental health problems.
With Kids offers a range of play-based therapy services for families and children, primarily delivered through schools. In the last 18 months our footprint has doubled, with more than 45 Scottish schools now on our roster. Post-pandemic, the need for children’s mental health support has soared, and schools are now putting greater efforts behind addressing these needs, with additional funding for a range of therapies.
In Glasgow, for instance, we are working alongside a range of other providers to deliver on the Scottish Government’s commitment for counselling to be made available to all primary six and seven pupils, spearheaded by the council’s education department. Over the next three or so years, With Kids will deliver play therapy, with others providing one to one counselling, art therapy or group work, depending on what is best suited to a child’s needs. Through programmes like this, we can help to expand the reach of play therapy, working with forward-thinking education providers to deliver much-needed services for families.
The evidence in favour of early years support is compelling. Research has consistently shown that it can play a part in mitigating some of the issues that children might face as they come into adulthood, from mental health challenges to addiction or even homelessness. An estimated 50 per cent of mental health problems are established by the age of 14.
Intervention at an early age can make a huge difference to the future of our children, with play therapy known to be particularly useful for children who often find it difficult to articulate their concerns or talk about the challenges they face directly.
It might be ambitious, but we’d like to see play therapy becoming an integral part of Scottish education, with at least one practitioner visiting every primary school across the country. Needless to say, we couldn’t meet that demand alone, but it would be great to see With Kids as one of many providers to support children and their families.
As a registered charity, we are only just starting to look ahead again following the pandemic, and it is thanks to financial support and advice from Social Investment Scotland (SIS) through its Third Sector Resilience Fund that we are in a position to do so.
Our core mission is to provide families with a safe harbour in which to ride out difficult storms, and for us, SIS provided a lifeboat during the peak of the pandemic that meant we could continue working with children and their families through tough times and beyond.
The pandemic has changed all our lives, but we are hopeful that there will be continued focus on building a more supportive environment for our children and young people, which recognises their mental health and wellbeing needs, helping them to flourish.
Gwen Galbraith, chief executive officer, With Kids