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Mental health specialists should be working in schools

An education thinktank is calling for a new cadre of pre-clinical mental health specialists to be working in schools.

A report by LKMco and social enterprise MindsAhead said a new school-based mental health development programme should be established, building on the successes of Teach First, Think Ahead, Unlocked Grads and FrontLine in a bid to tackle children’s mental health in schools.

Former health minister Norman Lamb said: “The mental health crisis facing our children and young people cannot be overstated. Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that suicide is now the leading cause of death for five to nineteen year-olds, and the incidence of self-harm has sky-rocketed in recent years.”

“Schools cannot be expected to solve this problem. However, they are without doubt an important part of the jigsaw. I therefore welcome this report’s focus on schools creating a climate that nurtures positive mental health and emotional wellbeing whilst ensuring pupils have access to pre-clinical support when they need it,” he added.

A combination of under-resourcing, lack of expertise in schools and difficulty commissioning and accessing the right kind services has led to patchy and insufficient access to support, said the report.

It highlights how:

  • Experts highlighted cases where the needs of young people who had attempted suicide were deemed insufficiently serious to secure access to support.
  • Teachers do not know how to help students access mental health services outside of school.
  • Cutting schools loose from their local authorities has made commissioning and accessing specialist support harder, particularly where academies are not part of a multi-academy trusts that provide mental health expertise.
  • While there has been a change in attitudes to mental health problems, stigma remains, and extends to parents who fear their parenting will be brought into question if their children are seen to have difficulties.

“Changes have also been announced to help schools better support pupils’ mental health,” said the report. “These include: the establishment of a new role for mental health leads within school; a greater emphasis on partnership with families; and new Ofsted criteria.”

“However, whilst well intentioned, these changes have yet to be properly implemented. Ultimately, a combination of patchy implementation, a severe lack of funding and a shortage of adequately trained specialists mean the government is likely to miss many of its own targets in relation to mental health,” it adds.

The government’s green paper on transforming children and young people’s mental health proposes Mental Health Support Teams to bridge the gap between schools and specialist services and provide early intervention work. The report suggests support teams should be made up of post-graduate trained and properly supervised professionals providing support at the pre-clinical stage within school but with links to CAMHS. This would allow them to support schools in their pre-clinical mental health support and whole school ethos, using evidenced based mental health approaches.

The report makes a number of recommendations including:

  • Campaigns and careers outreach programmes for school-aged pupils should be developed to encourage more young people to consider careers in youth mental health.
  • Ofsted should publish an audit how inspectors are reporting on its new judgements relating to pupil mental health and wellbeing.
  • Plans to make PSHE teaching a statutory requirement should be accelerated and teaching should focus on specific issues such as learning to deal with stress or learning about healthy use of social media as per the latest PSHE Association Curriculum.
  • Schools should ensure they have in-house mental-health experts, potentially shared between a number of schools to make support more affordable.
  • Regular safeguarding training for all school staff should make it clear that concerns about mental health constitute safeguarding concerns and that any concerns should be passed on to the senior leader responsible for safeguarding who can follow up as necessary.

Cllr Roy Perry, Vice Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “If we are to tackle the crisis in children’s mental health, we need a root-and-branch overhaul of existing services. We need to develop a system that says yes, rather than no, to children when they ask for help.

“This report echoes our call for councils and schools to be given the funding to offer independent mental health counselling, as part of a school’s overall focus on children’s wellbeing, so pupils have access to support as and when they need it.

“Providing just a small proportion of the funding the government is spending on mental health support nationally on school counselling is one way the government can ensure every child and young person enjoys the bright future they deserve,” he concluded.

Schools and Youth Mental Health: A briefing on current challenges and ways forward

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