A NEW report has warned of a mental health crisis faced by children and young people in Wales.

Long waiting times and persistent poverty are driving the trend, the Senedd report warns, with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbating the problem.

Although the report, released during Mental Health Awareness Week, highlights the Welsh Government's "clear ambition" in the area - such as the inclusion of mental health and emotional wellbeing in the new national school curriculum - author Sarah Hatherley notes that questions remain over its "inability to translate these actions into practice".

Seventy-eight percent of Welsh children and adolescents attending specialist mental health services in December 2021 had waited more than four weeks for a first appointment, according to official statistics - with this figure dropping slightly to 60 percent by February 2022.

The National Wales: Children in Cardiff and the Vale are most likely to experience longer waits for mental health services, according to official stats. (Picture: VisitWales)Children in Cardiff and the Vale are most likely to experience longer waits for mental health services, according to official stats. (Picture: VisitWales)

Young people living in the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board area were most likely to have waited longer for an initial appointment in February 2022 - with 88 per cent waiting longer than one month - followed by those living in the Swansea Bay Health Board area, at 67 per cent.

Youngsters were most likely to be seen relatively quickly in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg area - covering Rhondda Cynon Taf, Merthyr Tydfil and Bridgend, where 100 per cent waited less than a month to be seen.

Of particular concern, Ms Hatherley writes, is waiting times for the diagnosis of neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) - an issue which will be examined as a "key focus" during the Senedd's ongoing inquiry into mental health inequalities.

The report also notes the importance of moving away from simply "raising awareness" about mental health, and a focus on reacting to mental health problems when they arise, towards prevention.

"Prevention is about helping children and young people to cope with the ups and downs of life," Ms Hatherley says.

"It’s about building resilience, self-esteem and well-being from a young age."

The role of poverty and "Adverse Childhood Experiences" (ACEs) in the development of mental health conditions in young people is also touched on.

"The different causes of poor mental health in children and young people are complex," Ms Hatherley writes.

"A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry says one in three adult mental health conditions relate directly to adverse childhood experiences (ACE). 

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"Research has found that for every 100 adults in Wales, 47 suffered at least one ACE during their childhood and 14 suffered four or more."

Wales is thought to have the worst rate of child poverty in the United Kingdom, with around one in three children living below the poverty line here.

Until recent policy changes, Wales also had the most restricted access to free school meals. In 2020, the Child Poverty Action Group estimated that over half of impoverished Welsh children - around 70,000 - were not eligible for free food, either because their parents were in employment or because of their immigration status.

The Welsh Government aims to ensure all primary school pupils will have access to free school meals by 2024.

In evidence to the Senedd's mental health inequality inquiry this year, former Children's Commissioner Sally Holland said: "Poverty is a key driver [of mental health difficulties].

"So, socioeconomically disadvantaged children are two to three times more likely to develop mental health problems.

"And poverty that persists over time - that is a real issue for our children in Wales, because we have more persistent poverty here than elsewhere in the UK - it's strongly related to higher rates of mental ill health.

"Obviously, with the current cost-of-living crisis and issues during the pandemic, we're likely to have seen more children becoming poor during their childhoods in Wales."

Ms Holland added that local clinical mental health services for children sometimes gave "really quite a poor response" to the needs of children in care.

Sarah Hatherley adds: "This takes us back to the implementation gap and the perceived problem the Welsh Government has in making sure it can deliver its ambitions.

"Clearly there are other systemic issues holding back progress."

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