Government proposals to improve children and young people’s mental health services have been slammed as “lacking ambition”.
A joint report from the health and social care and education select committees said the government's proposed Green Paper on Transforming Children and Young People's Mental Health will provide no help to the majority of those children who desperately need it.
Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, said: “The Green Paper is just not ambitious enough and will leave so many children without the care they need. It needs to go much further in considering how to prevent mental health difficulties in the first place. We want to see more evidence that government will join up services in a way which places children and young people at their heart and that improves services to all children rather than a minority.”
The report highlights that both health and education services are under great strain with significantly stretched resources, and workforce recruitment and retention concerns. Half of school leaders appear to have cut back on their mental health support services.
The proposals in the green paper will further exacerbate these issues as it sets out that schools and colleges need to deliver the ‘Designated Senior Lead for Mental Health’ role from within their own ranks. The committees warn that the health and school sectors will face increased pressure within the high-accountability system, combined with a stretched teaching workforce.
“The government must ensure that the existing CAMHS workforce is not overburdened by the demands of the Green Paper,” the report by MPs adds.
Furthermore, young people told the committees that exam pressures impact negatively on their mental health and well-being. The report urges the government to gather independent evidence concerning the impact of exam pressure on young people.
In formal evidence given to the committees, it emerged that young people excluded from school seem much more likely to have social, emotional and mental health needs, yet the Green Paper does not address this issue. The government must focus on the increase in pupils being excluded with mental health needs and how the mental health needs of excluded pupils are being met, said the report.
Young people are also falling through the gaps and not receiving the services they need as they make the transition to adult mental health services at the age of 18. The report highlights that a far more appropriate age for transition appears to be 25 as a third of 18 year olds drop out of mental health support rather than transfer to adult services.
“The government must commit to a full assessment of the current transition arrangements between child and adult mental health services. In addition there needs to be a distinct and separate set of proposals for looked after children accessing mental health services,” said the report.
Chair of the Education Committee, Rob Halfon MP, said: “The government must back up its warm words by taking urgent action to address the mental health issues which children and young people face today. This strategy does not go far enough, which raises the very real prospect of hundreds of thousands of children missing out on the getting the help they so desperately need. We heard of the strong links between social disadvantage and mental health issues. If the government is serious about tackling injustices in our society, it must ensure proper targeted funding of support for those most in need. Ministers should also recognise the separate support needs of apprentices and FE students. Social media is an increasing part of young people’s lives. Given both the negative and positive impacts it can have on young people’s mental health, social media education should be made a compulsory part of PHSE in all schools.”