Mental Health and SEND

Mental Health and SEND

Children and young people with SEND face additional barriers that can affect their mental health. Unidentified speech, language, and communication needs can significantly impact their ability to express feelings and to feel understood and connected to others. Behaviours that could indicate unmet needs may be dismissed as ‘challenging’ without any real examination of what the child/ young person is trying to communicate, and can lead to isolation and exclusion. Autistic children/young people are especially vulnerable to misunderstanding and misinterpretation by others, and this combined with the pressure to ‘fit in’ can be detrimental to their wellbeing.

Children/young people with mental health needs may start refusing school, so identifying their needs and implementing appropriate support is essential.

How do schools/colleges support mental health?

The SEND Code of Practice describes four broad categories of SEN, including social, emotional and mental health. If a child/young person may have need in any of the categories of SEN, their school or college is expected to assess those needs and plan how to support the pupil. The school/college must then implement the support, and review it regularly.

The Code of practice is clear that advice from outside professionals should be sought when required.

Can a child/young person have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) for mental health needs?

Yes they can.

Children/young people with mental health needs often require additional support to access education, and an EHCP will be appropriate if their needs cannot be met from typical mainstream resources.

Any intervention that ‘educates or trains’ the child/young person must be specified as educational provision in Section F of the EHCP - for example, Zones of Regulation or emotional literacy work. Case law has also determined cognitive behavioural therapy can be ‘training’. Children/young people with mental health needs may also be supported through arrangements such as peer counselling or buddy schemes, learning mentors, time out breaks, small group activities, 1:1 support or input from a behaviour support specialist - all of these can be specified in an EHCP.

What school should a child/young person with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs attend?

Feeling accepted and valued is essential to a child or young person’s wellbeing, and appropriate school placement with a suitable cohort is an important part of ensuring the right support.

Some pupils will thrive in mainstream placements with extra support. Others may require a more specialist setting.

A number of schools now offer specific social, emotional and mental health expertise, and some admit only pupils with SEMH needs. These schools will typically offer a higher level of pastoral care and have staff specifically trained in SEMH support.

Many SEMH specialist schools are independent. These tend to be more expensive than maintained placements, and a request for one to be named in an EHCP may meet with resistance from the local authority. If you are considering an independent placement, you may wish to contact our expert team for advice

This is part of a series of articles for Children’s Mental Health Week 2021. You can find the official Health Week website here:

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