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Urgent national review of children’s mental health needed

An urgent national review into children’s mental health has been urged by the new president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.

In his inaugural speech, Steve Crocker said that the alarm has been sounding for some time on the growing mental health concerns amongst children and young people, longer waiting lists and more children reaching crisis point.

“Notwithstanding pockets of transformation in localities, children and young people’s mental health services need radical reform, they’re too rooted in clinical diagnostics, adrift from the child-centred, whole family and relationships-based working that is increasingly the norm in wider services for children and too adrift from other community-based services such as ours,” said Mr Crocker.

“They no longer reflect the needs and preferences of children and young people, particularly after the experience of the last two years,” he added.

There has been a huge increase in poor mental health and wellbeing amongst children over the past two years throughout the COVID-19 pandemic which, Mr Crocker said, “makes it even more bizarre” that the number of bed nights available to treat the most seriously traumatised children has declined rapidly during the same period.

“I hate to say it but failure to act now will only store up trouble for the future. Would I go as far as to say children are being failed? Yes, I would,” he said.

Mr Crocker went on to say that directors are frequently told that there is sufficient resources within the system, but that they are just not spending it right! He said that while he does not necessarily agree with that “simplistic view of the world of local government finance”, he accepted that there are resources within the system that could be used to better effect.

“Over £1billion spent on home to school transport each year, private children’s home providers with operating profit margins of 22%, an NCS scheme costing £171 million, additional costs of employing agency staff are approximately £22,700 per worker per year, and a 126% increase in the use of independent non-maintained special schools over the last six years,” explained Mr Crocker.

He outlined that there is money in the system which is not being used to best effect, but directors’ hands are tied.

“If we are serious about the opportunities presented by the White Paper, Green Paper and the yet to be published independent review, we need to make sure that funding within the system is available to support reform for the benefit of all children, young people and families. That will require some bold steps, and to be clear, I’m not proposing this is a silver bullet, this won’t solve the funding challenges across children’s services, but it would be a welcome start,” he concluded.

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