Supporting Children With Mental Health Needs At School
The Law Of…Promoting Positive Mental Health
Going to school, participating in classroom activities and communicating with different people is one of the regular things that children and young people do on a daily basis.
But, for 10% of children and young people aged 5 – 16 living with mental health needs these tasks aren't so easy.
In this guide, Samantha Hale, Associate in Education Law and Community Care, shares advice on how parents and schools can work together to support students with mental health needs.
Are Mental Health Needs Recognised As Special Educational Needs And/Or Disabilities (SEND)?
If your child has a mental health need that affects their learning and development, there's a chance that it could be identified as a special educational need requiring extra support at school.
It's also possible that your child's mental health need could be viewed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010.
A disability is defined in the Act as a "physical or mental impairment" that has a "substantial and long-term adverse effect" on someone's ability to carry out daily activities.
If your child's mental health need is identified as a disability, their school is responsible for making reasonable adjustments to accommodate their needs. It's also unlawful for them to discriminate against your child on the basis of their disability.
What Mental Health Needs Could SEN Provisions Be Made For?
Some of the mental health needs that special provisions can be made for include:
- Problems with conduct, such as aggressive behaviour
- Loss or seperation
- Substance abuse
- Eating disorders, such as anorexia
- Dealing with traumatic events such as abuse, bullying and accidents
How Can I Get The Right Support For My Child?
Mental health needs affect children and young people differently, regardless of whether they have been diagnosed with the same need.
Support mechanisms put in place for a child or young person with depression, for example, won't necessarily be appropriate for someone else with depression. Schools, therefore, should provide support for children or young people that's based on their individual needs.
You can speak to the school about whether it would be beneficial for your child to have SEN support from a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) or an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
An EHCP or a plan detailing SEN support that's put together for them should set out what their needs are and how they will be addressed.
Schools must also use the definition of SEN included in the SEND Code of Practice: 0 – 25 Years to help them identify whether a student has SEN.
Under the Code, a child or young person has SEN if they have a "learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made for him or her."
It also states that a child or young person has a learning difficulty or a disability if:
- They have a "significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age"
- They have a disability that "prevents or hinders him or her from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions"
It's also important to remember that any provision put in place for your child should take your opinions into account.
Coping Strategies In The Classroom
No two days are ever the same for children or young people with mental health needs, and it's not uncommon for their symptoms to get better or worse on different days and at different times.
To help them work through their symptoms at school, you can offer their teachers guidance on how they can support your child in these situations.
Some steps you can take include:
- Offering your child's teacher some tips on effective ways of helping to support your child, especially on days where they are, for example, agitated, withdrawn, anxious, depressed or otherwise struggling
- Speaking to their teachers about helping your child to plan ahead for classroom activities that will involve them communicating with others and sharing their views, particularly if they experience anxiety
- Requesting that they have the opportunity to have short breaks away from their work or even out of the classroom to allow them to refocus, and help reduce any anxiety
- Asking whether their teachers can be more flexible with deadlines set for your child to complete and hand in their work
- Asking whether they can provide additional pastoral support and provide positive classroom management
- Requesting that the school work with you and external specialists such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), Counsellors, GPs and any experts in the difficulties your child is experiencing
Samantha answers some FAQs on support for children with mental health needs.
My Child Has A Mental Health Condition And They've Been Excluded From School – What Can I Do?
Statistics have shown that 1 in 2 students who are excluded from school have a mental health problem. This raises questions over whether it is linked to the reason they are excluded and whether schools are taking these students' needs into account prior to excluding them.
When an incident occurs that could put your child at risk of expulsion, their head teacher must consider whether there are underlying reasons that could have influenced their behaviour. This includes mental health issues and SEND.
They should also look at what other steps they can take before they exclude a student, including assessing whether the right type of support is in place regardless of whether they have a diagnosed SEND.
It's unlawful for schools to exclude students on the grounds of their mental health need or SEN. If your child has been unfairly excluded from school on these grounds, we can review your case and advise you on what action you can take.
What Can I Do If My Child Is Diagnosed With A Mental Health Condition And They Already Have SEN?
If your child has SEN and they have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, there are a few different options you have.
If they have been getting support from a SENCO, you can ask to review the support provided and discuss whether they're able to meet your child's needs. Alternatively, if you believe that the support provided by the school isn't helping them, you can request an Education, Health and Care Needs Assessment.
This will be considered by your Local Authority (LA). If your LA agrees to the assessment it will then decide whether it will issue an EHCP for your child. If you're unhappy with your LA's decision, get in touch with our Education Law team and we can assess whether you can appeal against it.
If your child has an EHCP, you can request an early Annual Review of their plan, in which you could ask that the EHCP is updated.
My Child Has Mental Health Problems And They're Struggling With Their Work. How Can I Help Them?
If your child is finding it tough to engage in their education, you could find out whether they can complete some of their work in a quieter environment, such as in a separate room under the supervision of a SENCO or another teacher.
It might also benefit them to have more time to complete certain tasks during their lessons, which could stop them feeling anxious about having to meet a deadline.
If your child is struggling with their work at home, you could encourage them to take more breaks away from the room in which they're working. You could also ask their school whether it can help by either allowing your child to complete homework at school with additional support or to reduce the amount of homework they are given.