A new government Department for Children should be established to lead reforms to children’s mental health, a cross-party group of MPs and peers has recommended.
The Department for Children should be headed by a Secretary of State with the responsibility of cross-departmental audit and scrutinised by a new Select Committee, the All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood said.
“In that way, a revised green paper leading to a Child Mental Health Act will deliver and be seen to deliver in the interests of children, young people and their families,” said the report.
The green paper on children and young people’s mental health, published in December 2017, was criticised in a joint report by the health and social care and education committees as “lacking ambition”.
However, the APPG report said: “The green paper as it stands is not perfect, but neither should it be denounced as emblematic of yet another policy failure. It can, and must, be a foundation for child mental health services that work in the interests of the individual and the wider society of which they are a part. Within this context, a Department for Children and a Secretary of State with responsibility for cross-departmental audit scrutinised by a new Select Committee are integral.”
It added that while some schools already play a critical role in providing young people with appropriate support and best practice should be disseminated, “children’s mental health should not be a casualty of geography, inadequate training and insufficient funding and the green paper as it stands is a starting point, no more; requiring revision”.
The green paper outlines a three-prong attack to improving children and young people’s mental health services:
- Incentivise and support all schools to identify and train a Designated Senior Lead for Mental Health with a new offer of training to help leads and staff deliver whole school approaches to promoting better mental health.
- Fund new Mental Health Support Teams to provide specific extra capacity for early intervention and ongoing help, supervised by the NHS children and young people’s mental health staff whose work will be jointly managed by schools and the NHS.
- Reduce waiting times for NHS services for children and young people who need specialist help.
The APPG report highlights that the green paper offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity for England to reverse the long, slow decades of decay in the field of child mental health and makes a number of recommendations for the priorities for transforming children and young people’s mental health.
It calls for a focus on early intervention as well as a properly-funded CAMHS service with statutory referral times. Further, a national in-school counselling service staffed only by professionally accredited counsellors on an Accredited Register should be introduced and there should be compulsory initial training and ongoing CPD for all teachers and other professionals dealing with the mental health of children and young people. The National Curriculum should be “re-balanced” to include statutory child mental health and wellbeing content and the re-positioning of play and physical activity within a ‘whole child’ context.
The government should provide more accessible and timely support for children, young people and families who have experienced adversity and trauma with a specific focus on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). New plans should be introduced to fill the gap between school-based counselling and CAMHS for the school-aged child and speedy, responsive services for students/apprentices embarking upon an FE place, degree or mix of work and training who currently ‘fall between services’ and are unable to access sources of help.
The report also calls for government action on:
- Initiating dialogue with media outlets about the screening of potentially contentious material at times of stress (examination cycles etc).
- Initiating an ‘awareness’ campaign in order to lessen the chance of children with a mental health disability or illness suffering discrimination in society outside the immediate environs of school.
- Commitment to ring-fenced funding for antenatal, postnatal and early years mental health provision for children and parents.
- Regulation of social media where appropriate for child-safeguarding purposes.
- Funding for child mental health to reflect the needs of culturally-diverse and socio-economically disadvantaged communities.
- Inter-departmental collaboration on policy to promote child mental health and wellbeing; ideally co-ordinated and audited by a Secretary of State for Children.
“We hope that these measures will assist the government in making its eagerly awaited child mental health legislation ‘as good as it can be’ rather settling for, in time-honoured fashion, a strategy that is ‘just about good enough’,” the report concluded.