– in the Scottish Parliament on 7th March 2018.
5. To ask the Scottish Government how it supports school staff who provide guidance and counselling to vulnerable young people. (S5O-01858)
The mental health of children and adolescent young people is a very important issue, which we must all take seriously. We know that prevention and early intervention make a big difference in reducing the risk of developing mental health problems. Every child and young person should have access to emotional and mental wellbeing support in school. Some schools will provide access to school-based counselling, while others will be supported by pastoral care staff and will liaise with the educational psychology, family and health services for specialist support when required. A mental health link person is available to every school. That has been achieved in a variety of ways, using various models working to meet local needs.
We are becoming more and more aware that preventing adverse childhood experiences—or ACEs—is fundamental to the wellbeing of children and young people. However, where we cannot prevent them, how can we make sure that all teaching staff can identify and nurture vulnerable young people and help to build resilience and the ability to cope with trauma in those youngsters?
I will make two points. The first concerns the application of professional practice in relation to adverse childhood experiences, and its wider application across our public services. In the past few months, many of us have seen the film “Resilience”, which focuses on adverse childhood experiences. Following a showing of that film that I hosted at St Andrew’s house, the Government will be hosting later this month an extensive dialogue involving a range of ministers, local authority partners and a huge cross-section of stakeholders to find ways in which we can apply best practice in tackling adverse childhood experiences across the country.
The second point is a practical one about the education system. Education Scotland has developed two national professional learning resources—one concerning nurturing approaches in the primary school and the other concerning a whole-school nurturing approach—that encourage a focus on creating an environment that is anchored in the principle of nurture. Creating such a supportive atmosphere and environment for children and young people will ensure that we are taking all the steps that we can to intervene at the earliest possible opportunity in order to avoid any mental health difficulties arising for young people.
In England and in Wales, pupils have a legal right of access to a trained and qualified counsellor at school, if needed. Could our children not benefit from that same right?
The most important thing is to ensure that young people have access to the services that they require. In my answer to Gail Ross, I set out the range of support services that are available. Of course, a mental health link person is available to every school—that resource is deployed in different ways across the country.
The vital issue that we have to focus on is ensuring that young people have access to that support and that we are able to intervene as early as possible. Of course, early intervention can avoid the escalation of some of these issues and can, as a consequence, deliver a much more sustainable solution for young people across the country. That is exactly what the Government will do to ensure that we meet the mental health needs of all young people in Scotland.