Why the Arts Backpack supports mental health
Here at Action for Children’s Arts, we have been developing the Arts Backpack since 2018. The project started out with a focus on cultural entitlement, and whilst that is still at the heart of what we are doing, we have also had to re-focus our pilots to reflect a world that looks very different in 2022.
There is little doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has had an effect on the mental health of children and young people. The government’s COVID-19 mental health and wellbeing surveillance report found that there have been ‘significant increases in probable mental disorders in children and young people’, impacting the lives of around one in six children and young people. The results suggested that primary aged children experienced increases in mental health symptoms during lockdowns, but showed some recovery post-lockdown, however children with special educational needs and from low-income households ‘do not appear to show this post lockdown recovery’. Evidence suggests that the return to school has also worsened symptoms for children suffering with their mental health.
In light of this concerning research, we have incorporated a focus on mental health and wellbeing into our next phase of pilots – the Covid-recovery phase. We are also focussing on delivering in areas where there are high levels of child poverty, as this group has been particularly affected by the pandemic, and hope to work in special educational needs settings later this year.
A range of activities requiring differing levels of engagement and contribution from learners are designed to cater for children who might be anxious about coming back to school. Our Belfast pilot will aim to facilitate play, as a Child in the City report has found that participation in social play has dropped dramatically from 58.9 per cent to just five per cent during the pandemic. Children across all pilots will be encouraged to take part in reflective activities, helping them build expressive language and a stronger sense of identity.
Through our Continuing Professional Development programme, teachers will learn how to create their own programmes of resilience and cultural well-being. The appetite for this was strongly evidenced in the evaluation of the Fife preliminary pilot. We will also be encouraging teachers in England and Scotland to do Place2Be’s Mental Health Champions programme. Place2Be were joint winners of the 2021 J.M. Barrie Outstanding Contribution Award.
With evaluation of all pilots due to be released at the end of this year, we look forward to sharing with you how the Arts Backpack supports mental health. Click here to support the Arts Backpack pilots.