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Blog: The government’s agenda for childrens mental health

WillisPalmer’s head of operations Harriet Jannetta on the government’s green paper for childrens mental health and why the grants agreed need to be distributed at a local level so that it gets to those who need it.

The issue of children’s mental health has become a significant agenda item for this government. Partly because of recent high-profile celebrities discussing openly their own difficulties when they were children and also because evidence clearly shows that current provision through Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services has failed.

We are all more than aware that good mental health is fundamental for children’s growth and wellbeing. Good mental health enables children to develop the resilience to cope with whatever life has to throw at them and grow into well-rounded adults.

The prime minister announced a million pounds of investment into children’s mental health in 2016 following the publication of “Futures in Mind”. This was used to develop wellbeing hubs across England. The reality, however, was that despite this investment which was given to the Clinical Commissioning Groups to administer, little has changed and children’s mental health remains a national problem.

The mental health of children in the UK is in crisis: 90% of school leaders have seen an increase in the number of students experiencing anxiety and stress over the last five years, according to research by the charity YoungMinds.  One in 10 children aged five to 16 has a diagnosable mental illness, The Royal College of Psychiatrists reports.

The Green Paper ‘Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision’ was out for consultation until March and the government is currently analysing feedback. The government plans for every school and college to have a designated lead in mental health by 2025. The designated lead will be a trained member of staff who is responsible for the school’s approach to mental health.

This designated lead will:

  • oversee the help the school gives to pupils with mental health problems
  • help staff to spot pupils who show signs of mental health problems
  • offer advice to staff about mental health
  • refer children to specialist services if they need to

The designated leads will be offered training to develop their skills in leading mental health work. The Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund will be used to look at developing training to build the skills of these professionals and support them in delivering whole school approaches.

The green paper also sets out plans for mental health support teams made up of trained staff and who will link to groups of schools and colleges. They will offer individual and group help to young people with mild to moderate mental health issues including anxiety, low mood and behavioural difficulties.

The support teams will work with the designated mental health leads and provide a link with more specialist mental health services. This will mean that schools and colleges will find it much easier to contact and work with mental health services.

Mental health support teams will be the link between the NHS and schools. They will work alongside other people who provide mental health support including:

  • school nurses
  • educational psychologists
  • school counsellors
  • voluntary and community organisations
  • social workers

Alongside this, the government has pledged to reduce the time it takes for young people to get treatment from CAMHS. Some of the areas with new mental health support teams will trial ways of bringing waiting times down from a national average of 12 weeks to 4 and speedier access for young people who need very urgent help.

This agenda is ambitious but there is a significant gap in the scope of the Green Paper by the absence of any proposals to address issues relating to the quality of or variation in access to crisis and specialist care for children and young people. Furthermore, the grants agreed need to be distributed at a local level so that it gets to those who need it. The government cannot, as they have done so many times previously, select a few of their chosen organisations to deliver this programme as this will essentially mean that change will not happen and  children’s mental health will continue to decline.

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