As the grandfather of two covid babies who have not had the joy of the local mums’ and toddlers’ groups and who have not been able to build up essential social skills, to which Sarah Olney referred, I have real concern about the long-term nature of the lockdown social skills gap. I have seen mothers in churches unable to enjoy the service, as their little one is frightened in creche as they have not mingled with new people their entire lives. We have young children with an enforced early understanding of mortality and with what, for some, has turned into an obsession with hand cleaning. There are long-term issues that we must put in the work to combat.
Some 12.6% of children and young people in Northern Ireland experience common mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. That is around 25% higher than in other nations. My colleague Michelle Mcllveen, an MLA, the Education Minister for Northern Ireland and a former teacher, has put some measures in place. I want to comment on those measures, because I know that the Minister here is always very interested to know what we are doing back home. The Minister in Northern Ireland has put in place the children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing framework. She has allocated an additional £16 million in funding to that end. She has also set up a text-a-nurse service, a REACH—resilience education assisting change to happen—youth programme, an on-site nursing pilot in five post-primary schools and independent counselling services for schools. I know that Robert Halfon is always keen to hear what we are doing in Northern Ireland so I wanted to add that.
A new training programme also provides an opportunity for the entire education sector workforce of 60,000 staff to improve their understanding of trauma, which is really important. The Minister of Education has also put a further £5 million into education wellbeing funding. The healthy happy minds pilot to support therapeutic and counselling services in primary schools has begun and, along with the Engage programme, supports children and young people’s learning in the new academic year.
In response to the Belfast live great big parenting survey, 32% of parents said that their children were struggling to cope with their emotions; 23% said that they had always struggled but lockdown was making it worse; and 15% said that they were having problems with mental health for the first time. The pressure on families is huge and we must alleviate it in a co-ordinated way to ensure that no child is left behind and that every child who is struggling knows that help is available in school and out of school.
Needless to say, we can make a difference, but we must continue to allocate the funding and actively work on restoring that which covid has robbed our children of. Thank you very much Madam Deputy Speaker.