10/01/2017 08:40 GMT | Updated 11/01/2018 05:12 GMT

Barnardo's Welcomes PM's Promise To Tackle Children's Mental Health Issues

Matt Dunham/AP

Childhood should be a special time, packed full of happy memories of first swimming lessons, long summer days spent with friends and celebrating birthday parties.

But for too many youngsters it is a struggle as they battle with emotional and mental health illnesses and do not get the support they so desperately need.

Barnardo's is extremely concerned about the scale of the problem in the UK, with three children in every classroom suffering from a diagnosable mental health problem.

Mental health problems can lead to young people being disruptive, difficult, withdrawn and disturbed and it's vital they are supported and not just ignored or told off.

Shockingly 45% of children in care have a mental health issue - these are some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

And half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, with 75% developing by 18, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI).

Therefore it was very welcome to hear Theresa May today pledging to tackle the issue - and ensure it is as high a priority for the Government as physical health problems.

Mental health problems have a deep impact on their lives and those around them as those who suffer from a mental health issue are more likely to be absent or excluded from school, or be not in education or training (NEET).

They are also at a much higher risk of self-harm or suicide than their classmates.

In her speech the Prime Minister made a promise to stop mental illness from being a "hidden injustice in our country" and said: "Left unaddressed, it destroys lives, it separates people from each other and deepens the divisions within our society.

"Changing this goes right to the heart of our humanity; to the heart of the kind of country we are, the values we share, the attitudes we hold and our determination to come together and support each other."

At Barnardo's we couldn't agree more and welcome her focus on initiatives in schools as the sooner the problems are picked up the sooner they can be treated so youngsters can thrive and live happy, healthy lives.

We want to see a dual approach combining early intervention and prevention and quicker access to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS) when required.

The current system where almost two thirds (64%) of primary schools in England do not have a counsellor based on-site and the majority (59%) of those that do, provide counselling on-site for one day a week or less is unacceptable.

It is essential for all schools to have professional mental health services on site as the Government must ensure that all children and young people get timely support. It is equally important to work alongside parents and carers so that they are able to pick up on any issues early and know how to support their children and where to go for help.

We work with the most vulnerable children and young people, including those who have been in care or are sexually exploited. It is imperative schools engage with these children and their carers.

Supporting vulnerable children is at the heart of Barnardo's work. We can help the government tackle mental health issues in schools, as our work with young people in education is focused around specific programmes to address mental health and emotional wellbeing.

These schemes support a whole-school/ college approach to mental health as this helps to reduce the stigma of mental health problems amongst children and young people.

In primary schools we offer two programmes, one for the younger children and then another for older ones as they prepare to start secondary school.

The first is called PATHS, mostly in use in Northern Ireland, and aims to help young children to begin to understand and regulate their emotions, including conflict resolution.

As the children get older they move on to the All Stars programme which addresses some of the issues they are likely to encounter as they become teenagers, including substance misuse, violence and sexual activity.

The highly interactive sessions aim to engage the pupils to educate themselves and prevent them making mistakes as they enter adolescence.

Barnardo's also runs Time 4 Me, a school-based counselling and support service providing individual and group counselling. This project provides therapeutic counselling for children and young people in their schools and other educational settings during term time and within school hours.

The sessions are run by a qualified therapist and provide sensitive and confidential support for children, young people, parents and carers who are experiencing emotional difficulties.

Time 4 Me's objective is to empower the young people to become happy, safe, healthy and make a valuable contribution to their community.

These and other similar programmes should form part of a whole school approach. I would be delighted to talk to Theresa May about how we can work together to bring them to more schools across the UK.