Mental health and peer relationships will be at the front of every educator’s practice in the coming weeks. Children and young people have had very different experiences of lockdown. We know that many have struggled with feelings of isolation and a disconnect from the supports that were available to them from school-based professionals. There are also concerns about children and young people who might have previously managed well or thrived at school; we do not yet know what level of anxiety many children and young people will bring with them on their return. It is time then to pause what might be ‘normal’ when we think about our curriculum and to provide opportunities for learners in our care to reflect, to think and talk about their feelings, to refresh and re-connect with friendships. In the first of our RSHP resource e-news updates (read it here) this term, we will be pointing to content on the RSHP resource that can support educators in this regard.
A second key concern is that during lockdown, and with school closures, children and young people have missed key parts of the RSHP curriculum. In the course of the development of the RSHP resource, we heard many educators say that it is in the final term of the year that some aspects of the RSHP curriculum are delivered. This usually meant elements of the curriculum with an interest in supporting learners to gain knowledge about their bodies, sexuality, sexual intercourse, and sexual health including reproduction. The problem is that, with school closures, these opportunities were lost, leaving learners with important gaps in knowledge. In a previous PINS blog Dr Kirsty Abu-Rajab identified significant knowledge gaps amongst young people who are sexually active, we must be very aware that these gaps will only increase where learning and support have not been available. In the second RSHP e-news update this term, we will be signposting to resources that will help make sure we address potential gaps
The lockdown has also seen an increase in children and young people spending time online. This has been encouraged in support of learning at home or keeping in touch with friends. But an unintended outcome and concern for us all, for society, should be the increased risks to children and young people from predatory adults or peers. Then there is also their access to pornography. Talking and learning about such things is not easy, educators, parents, and carers often need a kind of scaffold to help them approach such topics. In these first weeks and months back at school and with the help of the content on the RSHP resource (the focus of RSHP’s third e-news update later this month) it will be helpful to check-in with how children and young people are doing when it comes to their recent online experiences, and also to make sure we support them to build pro-social and self-protective behaviours essential to manage information and online relationships.
With all the reasons outlined here, there is a real need for a call to action when it comes to supporting our children and young people to learn about their bodies, peer and romantic or intimate relationships, sexual and reproductive health, and how to manage and keep themselves safe online. The national RSHP resource is the go-to place where educators and allied professionals can find everything they need to make sure we create a recovery curriculum that meets some very fundamental educational needs, particularly for the most vulnerable children and young people in our schools.
Elaine McCormack is Health Improvement Lead with Sandyford (NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde) www.sandyford.org and is part of the National Steering Group for the RSHP education resource https://rshp.scot/
To sign up to receive the RSHP resource network updates, visit: rshp.scot/about-the-resource/#getinvolved