A North Yorkshire organisation responsible for examining the causes behind child deaths has raised a red flag over the impact the Covid-19 pandemic could have on youngsters, amid a rising tide of adolescent suicides.
While the North Yorkshire Child Death Overview Panel’s report for 2019/20 states the number of children living in the county taking their own lives rose to seven last year, health professionals have raised concerns that issues fuelling the rise will be exacerbated by the pandemic.
A Government paper published last month stated there was evidence of an increased number of children seeking help for suicidal thoughts at the beginning of the lockdown and data from early July showed ‘suicidal thoughts’ accounted for 19 per cent of all issues raised on the online mental health Kooth platform at the time, and the number of issues was 40 per cent higher than the previous year.
It added a review of likely child suicides in England during the pandemic raised “a concerning signal that child suicide deaths may have increased during the first 56 days of lockdown”.
The North Yorkshire panel’s report, which examines deaths up to March 31 and is due to be considered by the county council’s child scrutiny committee, states of 39 child death cases over the last year, 14 or 35 per cent were found to cases where if actions could be taken through national or local interventions, the risk of future child deaths could be reduced.
Following a doubling of the number of children who have died as a result of unsafe sleeping practices, safe sleep will be one of two priority areas of focus for panel for the coming year, alongside suicide prevention.
The report states: “The panel will also be seeking out research which can inform practice on the prevention of suicide in children and young people. This work is of particular concern as we move through the coronavirus pandemic and its long-term impact on mental health in this age group.”
It adds that the panel “is mindful that in the current Covid-19 pandemic there is the possibility of child deaths occurring as an indirect result of Covid-19 and the actions taken during lockdown.
The panel states it is seeking assurances that various agencies, such as the NHS and schools, are working collectively on the suicide prevention agenda.
The report states: “Over recent years the panel has seen a number of children
who have taken their own lives sadly increase. Each and every death has an impact on a number of different people from family, friend’s members of their community. We need to work together to understand, learn and prevent future deaths.”
One action being undertaken includes ensuring “the right support is available
much earlier on to support children’s social, emotional mental health” and launching an one-stop online service to help schools, the children’s workforce, parents and carers get support for young people at risk.
Commenting on the report, North Yorkshire independent clinical psychologist Dr Caroline Harris described the rise in suicides as “worrying” and said a long-term trend of a lack of access to support services was behind it.
She said the bar to be accepted for NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services had been raised to such an extent that children had to be actively suicidal before they were taken on and other services did not have the skill set to deal with struggling children.
Dr Harris said it was clear the pandemic will impact on children’s mental health and there were increased safeguarding concerns due to a lack of access to schools, clubs and other activities away from home.
She said: “It takes longer for the children to access the services as they’re reliant on adults and they may not be vocalising their issues. The message that some children will be struggling needs to get into schools and across to parents.”