Parents opting pupils out of mental health support amid stigma fears, MPs told

Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent
·3-min read

Parents have been opting out of a scheme to provide targeted mental health support to their children amid concerns around stigma, MPs have heard.

Shanti Johnson, deputy head at Maple Primary School in St Albans, Hertfordshire – one of the pilot schools for the Government’s mental health support leads – said some families worried about their children being labelled if they took up the provision being offered.

She told the Commons Health and Social Care Committee: “I think that’s where the biggest hurdle lies with the parents.”

In December 2018, the Government launched 25 trailblazer regions to pilot proposals from its mental health green paper for children and young people – which included every school having a designated mental health support lead.

Maple Primary School was one of the pilot schools chosen to trial the mental health support teams initiative – where leads work directly with the pupils, or their parents, to help improve the child’s wellbeing.

When asked what could improve the scheme, Tim Bowen, head at Maple Primary School, said they had some “disappointments” when parents withdrew from the programme when they realised they would have to take some responsibility for their child’s mental health support.

He told MPs: “I think a few of our parents thought they could pass their concern, pass their problem on to someone else, and that the school and the specialist would deal with it.

“But when it came back ‘Well this is what you as parents have to do’ sadly in a couple of instances the parents withdrew.”

Mr Bowen added: “There was one other case where the family decided to withdraw support because they were concerned, I think incorrectly, that there would be something on the child’s record either going up to secondary school, or even on their medical records.”

When asked to expand on issues with parental engagement, Ms Johnson told MPs: “At the moment we’ve been explaining all the things that we’re doing.

“It is just making the parents aware of the different opportunities that we have on offer.”

She added: “I think it boils down to the stigma attached to mental health and parents perhaps being very concerned that their child might be labelled, or that it might have an effect on their child going forward if they’ve been identified for any particular anxiety or any other mental health concerns.”

Ms Johnson added that the “biggest limit” to the scheme was a lack of time with the mental health lead – who is only at the school for half a day a week.

Dr Aleisha Clarke, head of child mental health and wellbeing at the Early Intervention Foundation, told MPs: “What we’re hearing from schools, mental health is a priority. It’s up there as one of the top priorities for schools, but what we’re hearing is that schools actually need more time.”

She added that it was important that work done in schools was “supported and reinforced in the home environment and the stigma around mental health could be addressed through “universal provision”.