Children must be placed at centre of mental health legislation

The needs of children need to be placed at the centre of a reformed Mental Health legislation otherwise it risks becoming little more than a “sticking plaster”, a report has warned.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood has said the needs of children need to feature ‘first, last and foremost’ in any reformed mental health legislation as poor mental health often makes its first appearance in childhood.

Chair, Jim Fitzpatrick MP said: “The Prime Minister’s pledge to reform the 1983 Mental Health Act is welcome in order to combat the ‘burning injustice’ of the disparity she has criticised in mental health care. However, reform is long overdue. If new legislation focuses purely upon the adult population, it will be as ineffective as sticking plaster, because poor mental health often makes its first appearance in childhood and is either missed or dismissed. The resultant full-blown adult crisis becomes entrenched and measures to combat it will be correspondingly difficult and costly. The resultant full-blown adult crisis becomes entrenched and measures to combat it will be correspondingly difficult and costly.”

The group has published a report offering a ‘practice based evidence’ approach, placing children at the centre, which it states, will contribute to a society that is mentally resilient as well as physically fit.

The report recommends:

– ‘Practice based evidence’; child centred strategies measuring what progress is being achieved against objectives such as those supplied by the National Audit Office in assessing the delivery of mental health services to children as set out in the Green Paper.

– The extension of responsibility for the children’s mental health workforce development beyond the Department of Health and Social Care to encompass the Department for Education and others with a comparable and demonstrable interest.

– A substantial extension of the range of interventions beyond the limited compass of behavioural family therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

– A commissioned authority to ensure the establishment of unified policies and standards for the inspection of children’s mental health.

– An extension of the definition of the Children and Young People’s Health Service Data Set (CYPHS) to include all locations that deliver children’s mental health services through the Data Coordination Board.

Lead author, Helen Clark said that the inclusion of the child centred strategies in the APPG report would enable a new Mental Health Act to stand the test of time: “The government’s official announcement of the proposed legislation makes no mention of children. Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock says that one in four people will be affected by mental ill health at some point in their lives. What he does not say is that this may begin in childhood.

“As Chancellor, Philip Hammond has said, ‘there are few more pressing needs than the needs of those who suffer mental illness.’ We agree. It makes sense therefore, that the mental health needs of children (who depend upon the adult society to act in their best interests) must be the top priority.

“The policies we offer in our new report will be the missing link for a reformed Mental Health Act and ensure that it can, and will, stand the test of time – by putting children first,” she concluded.

Children’s Mental Health Beyond the Green Paper: The Role of Practice-Based Evidence

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