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Government timescales for children’s mental health slammed as lacking urgency

The government will roll-out its new approach to tackling children and young people’s mental health problems to at least a fifth to a quarter of the country by the end of 2022-23.

In its response to the consultation on ‘Transforming children and young people’s mental health: A green paper,’ the government said the first wave of the trailblazers for the principle aims of the green paper will be operational by the end of 2019 and rolled out to a fifth of the country by 2022-23.

However, the planned time frame has raised concerns among the sector, not least from the children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield who said she “remains extremely concerned that significant improvements for all children are many years away”.

Chief executive of The Children’s Society Matthew Reed added: “These proposals do not reflect the urgency of the situation facing young people in desperate need of help right now and we would call on ministers to think again and strengthen these plans.”

The three core principles behind the government’s plans are:

  1. To incentivise and support all schools and colleges to identify and train a Designated Senior Lead for mental health.
  2. To fund new Mental Health Support Teams, which will be supervised by NHS children and young people’s mental health staff.
  3. To pilot a four week waiting time for access to specialist NHS children and young people’s mental health services.

The government said that it has looked at the current training available for Designated Senior Leads for mental health in schools and colleges and reconsidering, in light of our teaching and leadership innovation fund process, whether there are sufficient high quality courses and will work with providers of suitable courses to make sufficient places available to offer training to one-fifth of schools from September 2019.

The government will fund Mental Health Support Teams via Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), and expect schools, colleges and other local partners to have a central role in the application process and in designing and leading delivery.

Trailblazers will examine ways to deliver the pledge of a four-week waiting time in a big to “mitigate the risk of unintended consequences” associated with introducing a four week time limit across the board by a set date.

“Through the pilots, and through monitoring the impact of Mental Health Support Teams on referrals and specialist NHS children’s mental health services, we aim to establish a clear understanding of the costs, benefits, challenges and indicators of success of introducing a four week wait,” said the government response,” said the government response to its plans following consultation with the sector.

Other proposals in the green paper will also be taken forward. This includes the government pledge to ensure that children will learn about mental health through the curriculum, introduce health education to the curriculum by 2020 and take action on social media and potential harms to children and young people’s mental health through its response to the Internet Safety Strategy Green Paper. The government will also support a new University Mental Health Charter in June 2018, aiming to drive up standards in promoting student and staff mental health and wellbeing and by setting up a team with representatives from across the sector to review the support needed for students in the transition into university, particularly those with or at risk of mental health issues.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “While I welcome the government’s commitment to developing a new children’s mental health workforce in schools over the coming years, I remain extremely concerned that significant improvements for all children are many years away. Five years is a lifetime to a child, and even under these new plans the majority of children will see little improvement over the course of their secondary school life. Too many children will still not be able to get help or will be waiting an unacceptably long time for treatment.

“I know NHS professionals and schools are working hard to improve services and the introduction of trailblazer pilots and the training of hundreds of new counsellors will make a difference. This is a positive step in the right direction which quickly needs to be followed by a quantum leap to accelerate implementation to get help to all children who need it.

“I would like the government to set really ambitious targets that would see a counsellor available to every secondary school, so that we give children suffering from mental health problems every chance of getting better before their illness becomes worse and they reach crisis point. This will require political will and leadership and a sea change in children’s mental health care funding, to close the enormous spending gap between adult and children’s mental health services. I will continue to press the government to make the changes needed to make sure every child has access to the support and care they need as soon as possible.”

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: “While the government’s commitment to put more support into schools is welcome, it doesn’t do nearly enough to address the crisis in children’s mental health services.

“Hundreds of thousands of young people are struggling with mental ill-health and these proposals fall short of what is needed to urgently tackle long waiting times and shortcomings in support.

“As little as one fifth of the country would benefit from the planned pilot schemes, meaning the current postcode lottery will continue for the foreseeable future and it could be years before the changes are rolled out.

“Many more children could be reached, and quickly, by committing to the provision of counsellors in all secondary schools and colleges as soon as possible.

“More funding is needed if trusts are to meet the four-week waiting time target, and there is little in the plans to improve early support for the most vulnerable groups of children - including those affected by sexual abuse and neglect, domestic violence, those excluded from school and refugee children - which can prevent mental health problems from escalating.

“The proposals do not do enough to improve provision for older young people, particularly in colleges, and we would urge the government to ensure all young people can access Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services up to the age of 25, rather than 18 or 16.  We have seen through our own services how this model can help address the worrying problem of young people falling through the cracks between children’s and adult mental health services.

“These proposals do not reflect the urgency of the situation facing young people in desperate need of help right now and we would call on ministers to think again and strengthen these plans,” he added.

Government Response to the Consultation on Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision: a Green Paper and Next Steps

 

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