The government must "turbo-charge" plans for mental health support for children in schools and ensure that wellbeing checks are at the heart of its Covid-19 catch-up plans, a charity leader will say.
Schools and teachers must be properly equipped to recognise and respond sensitively to children who have had traumatic experiences in lockdown when they return to the class, the NSPCC is urging.
Sir Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, will say that Covid-19 catch-up plans for children must include recovery from trauma and support for mental health to prevent harm from becoming lasting.
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During the charity's two-day conference on safeguarding children, starting today, Sir Peter will say that it has been "a truly awful year for children", with lockdown increasing the risks of abuse and neglect among young people.
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He will add: "We also know that the mental health of many young people has deteriorated.
"Since the first lockdown last year, Childline has delivered just over 61,000 counselling sessions about mental and emotional health.
"We know, from what young people tell us, that this year has been horrendous in so many ways."
In his opening words at the virtual conference, Sir Peter will say: "We must begin this conference by recognising that this has been a truly awful year for many children.
"With schools returning for very many more children, we need urgent action to support those emerging from lockdown, as hidden harms become visible.
"We need a long-term recovery plan and investment to support their futures."
Emotional wellbeing checks on pupils should be central to the government's catch-up activities and not an optional addition, the charity says.
It adds that the government's plans for mental health support teams in between a fifth and a quarter of schools by 2023 are not enough on their own.
Last week, prime minister Boris Johnson announced an extra £400 million of funding – on top of the £300 million pledged in January – to help pupils make up for lost learning following months of school closures.
On the catch-up measures, Sir Peter will say: "This funding is hugely important, but we know that children also need help to recover from the harm some have experienced behind closed doors and for the impact the pandemic has had on young people's emotional and mental wellbeing.
"Protecting children requires investment."