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Opinion

There is a generation of children screaming out to be heard – an open letter from the Children’s Laureate of Wales

19 Apr 2023 5 minute read
Connor Allen (photo by Polly Thomas)

Connor Allen, Children’s Laureate Wales

To the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing,

As the current Children’s Laureate of Wales I have met and engaged with hundreds of children all over Wales over the past eighteen months. One thing that has become clear to me during this time — and is becoming a growing issue all over the country — is children’s mental health.

I recently had the privilege of working with a group of children from all over Cardiff for Children’s Mental Health Week on a life-changing project around mental health and one thing became unavoidably obvious: a focus on children’s mental health cannot be limited to one week of the year. It needs to be the focus 365 days a year.

In an era of social media, ever-changing society and rapid technology, children are under constant pressure and the weight on their shoulders is unthinkable as we look to them to fix our wrongs. The pressure is massive and I pose one simple question: Why can’t we allow children to be children?

My whole ethos as Children’s Laureate is that children are miracles. Humans are miracles. In a sea of eight billion people, there is only one you, who holds all the mannerisms and quirks and uniqueness that you do.

So, when I meet 10 and 11 year-olds who feel so upset that they can’t see the joy in the world and the magic in themselves I simply say enough is enough. More needs to be done to support and to nurture them.

They are the future, our next generation of leaders and healers and teachers and everything in between who have the ability to build and create a just society where everyone is seen and valued. That is my hope, but to do that they need to be supported and helped and, quite simply, listened to.

Unsupported

No child – and I mean not one single child across Wales – should be feeling so low, so unsupported and, quite frankly, so unimportant that they don’t feel able to confide and seek help for their mental health, that they can’t find safe spaces to talk and discuss what is going on.

There is a generation of children screaming out to be heard. If I can use my platform and role as Children’s Laureate for one thing, it will be to ensure that these children are finally being listened to. They need help and support and it’s up to us not to fail them.

Back in 2021 it was pledged that £9 million would go to ensuring support is available specifically to children and young people in Wales. Research shows that mental health issues predominantly start when people are children, so access to support is vital to safeguard the future for these children.

Children in Wales need better support, but also the RIGHT support. Each child is unique and individual and needs to be treated as such. A generic one-size-fits-all approach simply isn’t working and isn’t good enough when I am on the ground working with children and they are saying to me on post-it notes that more support is needed and they want to be listened to.

This is where I echo what the Royal College of Paediatrics and Children’s Health (RCPCH) have outlined in light of an increase in the rate of young people ending their own life across the country: “Welsh Government should resource and support these programmes to ensure delivery of a whole system approach and support the ‘missing middle’ who need services but do not meet the criteria for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)services. This system should incorporate education and a Whole School Approach, early intervention, community based support and targeted support for vulnerable groups.

This way we combat the stigma of talking so seeking support is normalised.

Nurtured

Every child has the right to be nurtured, and the right to their potential to flourish in a nurturing and supportive environment. So, build the future these children want to see for themselves.

Ensure children’s mental health is the highest priority – because no child should be suffering in silence. The arts, and creativity as a whole, has the potential to change people’s lives and more than that: to save lives. So, let’s find more creative approaches to supporting the ever-growing issue of children’s mental health.

If every child’s mental health is like a bottle of fizzy drink, allow each child to ease the pressure off their bottle tops so they don’t explode because of the build-up of pressure.

Empathy is the highest form of knowledge so let’s empathise with the issues young people are facing and let’s help them create a future that they are proud of, one they have a hand in forging.

We are in the privileged position to help them. So, let’s help them. Let’s arrange a meeting between you, me and the children I’ve met so that we can collaborate about what help and support looks like for them, and really take on board what they have to say.

Let’s listen to them. Let’s give them the tools for a brighter future.

I pledged to do all I can, but you, as a Deputy Minister, have the power to make everlasting change for children’s health a reality. We can make sure that children in Wales are happier and healthier than ever.


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DR MENNA ELFYN
10 months ago

diolch am hwn/ thanks for this — thanks for sharing joy with your poetry and mentoring

Ivor Schilling
Ivor Schilling
10 months ago
Reply to  DR MENNA ELFYN

(vomits)

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