I led a very informative and constructive meeting recently with the Mental Health Champion, Siobhan O’Neill and the Sinn Fein Education team, where she highlighted the stresses and strains this period has had on children and young people particularly their mental health and their social development.
I believe that if we are to avoid a mental health crisis further down the road there needs to be an urgent assessment of how this prolonged lockdown is impacting the development of our children.
This is of particular importance in socially deprived areas where parents do not have the financial wherewithal to compensate for the absence of daily schooling. As a component of any programme, free school meals must become a permanent aspect of young people’s development, not just now during this pandemic.
Children’s physical and mental development does not take holidays. It is imperative, therefore, that those children who qualify for the free school meals programme be ensured of at least one nourishing meal a day all year round.
As we emerge from Covid19 with the roll out of the vaccine I am calling for the Executive to provide space for children and young people to reconnect, enjoy themselves, play, participate in sports, the arts, culture or just hang out. Every child and young person should have access to a summer scheme that’s designed around enjoyment and reconnecting.
This summer will be a really important time for our children and young people who will have lost 18 months of going to concerts, festivals, hanging out, making new friends and forming relationships.
Young people need to be at the centre of a conversation with the government, youth sector, early learning groups, community associations, and others involved in community development so we can approach this summer in a coordinated manner that will provide safe and healthy outlets for young people’s energy and imagination.
Now is the time to be planning so we are not left looking round for ideas and inspiration in May and June. Too much has been left to the last minute particularly regarding our young people.
Let’s make the Summer of 21 a time that our children and young people can look back on in years to come not as the summer Covid ended but as the summer when we reconnected and enjoyed the craic. Karen Mullan MLA