Our fight for Government support for children of parents with mental illness has never been more urgent

So far, 2020 has brought about unprecedented challenges for almost everyone, but children of parents with a mental illness have been hit particularly hard. As a group that’s currently unsupported and unrecognised by the government, many children quietly rely on teachers, members of extended family, social workers and mental health professionals for support – so we have been concerned about this welfare of this invisible group during the pandemic. Over the last six months, we’ve been working hard to engage with MPs and policymakers to bring about a change which could secure long-term and life-changing support for these children.

Policy highlights 2020

Earlier this year we commissioned a report from Pro-Bono Economics, written by Dr Allan Little. The findings from this report, published in July 2020, suggest that both the challenges encountered by these children and the number affected have grown significantly. During the pandemic, all measures of well-being have reached their lowest levels since national records began in 2011, with over 25 million people, nearly 40% of the population, reporting ‘high’ anxiety in March 2020, an increase from 21% in 2019. The additional strain on mental health support systems, pressure on parents leading to new mental health problems or the exacerbation of existing ones, and families living in isolation have all contributed to the difficulties these children face. Throughout autumn, we have been circulating the report to MPs and the media calling for urgent action and the need to address this pressing issue.

Our Time has also been proactive in its contributions to parliamentary inquiries and calls for evidence. Earlier in the summer, the House of Lords Covid-19 Committee was established to consider the long-term implications of the pandemic on the economic and societal well-being of the UK. The committee asked for both written and creative responses to how the coronavirus has affected people’s lives, what challenges need to be overcome and where there are opportunities do better – especially in the light of systemic inequalities to society. Our Time submitted both a formal written response and a creative response with the help of our young ambassador Juliet, who created the video below.

We highlighted to the committee that lockdown has intensified the incredibly difficult situation faced by children who care for parents with a mental illness in the UK, as well as outlining proven and low-cost solutions.

Our Time also submitted a response to the Spending Review, contributing evidence and recommendations on how the government can rectify the national framework’s shortcomings, at minimal cost, by expanding programmes similar to those offered by Our Time across the UK, and emulating Norwegian and Australian legislation.

We are also planning an event for summer 2021, hosting a large face-to-face gathering of young people who have parents with a mental illness, in collaboration with a theatre and supported by a social media campaign. This event will provide an opportunity for MPs and policymakers to hear the challenges and concerns raised by young people first-hand, and for young people to meet others in similar situations. We know from our work and research that one of the protective factors for these children is knowing they are not alone – which will be of heightened importance in the wake of the pandemic, which has isolated so many people.

Over the coming months, we will submit further evidence to the Education Committee’s inquiry on the impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services, engage other charities around this important issue, and relaunch our petition calling for policy change in 2021.

Help us to continue this critical work and provide support to young people who care for or live with a parent with a mental illness