Children will be emotionally damaged for years after the pandemic without a massive expansion of mental health services, a report has found.

The Children’s Commissioner for England found only one in four children who needed NHS mental health support could access it last year.

Anne Longfield concluded the system could not respond to pandemic which has left children isolated from extended families and disrupted two years of school education.

Despite some recent expansion of mental health services the commissioner said that due to a “poor starting point” they were nowhere near good enough.

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Young teen girl appears down as she sits by her bed in her room
Children and teens have struggled with isolation during the pandemic (stock photo)

Her fourth annual report blames a “lack of ambition” from Government and is demanding every school have access to a counsellor.

Anne Longfield said: “It is widely accepted that lockdown and school closures have had a detrimental effect on the mental health of many children.

“Since the NHS study in July 2020 estimating one in six children in England have a probable mental health condition, we have had another long lockdown.

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Sadly, this will be causing even more damage to many children’s mental wellbeing and putting even greater strains on mental health services, potentially for years to come.

“That is why in the short term it is so important the Government sets out a roadmap that helps schools to reopen over the coming weeks.

“In the longer term, the Government’s ‘building back better’ plans must include a rocket boost in funding for children’s mental health, to expand services and eliminate the postcode lottery.

Child sits gazing out the window with his back to camera
It's been a tough year for youngsters whose learning and friendships have been disrupted (stock photo)

“As an absolute minimum, all schools should be provided with an NHS-funded counsellor, either in school or online.”

One in 25 children accessed mental health services last year in 2019/20

In the year before the pandemic, referrals to children’s mental health services increased by 35% while the number of children accessing treatment increased by just 4%.

Teen girl lies on her bed reading on her smartphone
Child advocates are worried about the pandemic's longterm effect on mood (stock photo)

Jo Holmes, of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, said: “Even when the classrooms are closed and the playgrounds are empty, school counsellors are offering critical services helping young people who are struggling with how their lives have changed because of the pandemic.

“They’re seeing first-hand how this pandemic is having a huge impact on young people’s mental health. But sadly not every school child has access to this vital support.”