Children’s mental health – the Government is not getting it right

I’m following up my post from February on children’s mental health and the Government’s Green Paper on the issue.  Yesterday, the Education Committee and Health & Social Care Committee issued a joint statement saying that

The Government’s proposed Green Paper on Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health lacks ambition and will provide no help to the majority of those children who desperately need it.

Having three teenage girls, this rams home. The girls tell me of the myriad of mental health issues going on around them – peers self-harming; experiencing psychosis; anorexia; depression; anxiety; the list goes on. This is their world, it is our world, and we are failing our young people.

The Government is rolling out Trailblazer pilot schemes, but it is too little and not being done quickly enough. Hundreds of thousands of children are missing out on the help they need now. I recently spoke with someone who works in CAMHS and she lamented the lack of provision locally for the girls she was working with. Staff know the pressures, parents are living with the pressures, young people are suffering needlessly.

The need for more resource in schools to support young people was highlighted, with the report saying existing CAMHS staff could not do any more than they are already doing. People are stretched to capacity.

Participants in the workshops highlighted exam pressure as being a major cause of mental ill-health. The report suggests the Government needs to commission a study on the effect of our exam-based system on mental health.

Young people excluded from school are far more prone to mental ill-health, but the Green Paper does not address this issue. How can we better meet the needs of these young people?

A major worry for many parents is the transition from children’s to adult mental health services. It is not happening. Young people are falling through the gaps and not receiving the services they need as they enter adulthood. Currently, young people transition at 18, but the report suggests that 25 would be a more appropriate age. What is scary is that seemingly a third of young people drop out of mental health care when they turn 18 and don’t make the transfer to adult services.

The full report is here. If you’re short on time, the Conclusions and Recommendations are worth a skim. Here are some excerpts from a very long list:

6. When the Government publishes its response to the consultation on the Green Paper, we want to see more evidence that the changes it proposes will join up services in a way which places children and young people at their heart. The Government’s response must also address and recognise the constant change and fragmentation of both the education and health systems.

7. The Government should also place a greater emphasis on, and provide a strategy for, prevention, early intervention and dealing with some of the root causes of child mental health problems. 

9.We also recommend that the Government commission independent research, with young people at its heart, on whether the narrowing of the curriculum from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 4 is also having an impact on mental health. This research should be considered when considering further restrictions to the accountability of schools in relation to curriculum offer.

13.We recommend more co-commissioning between adult and child mental health services for the whole family, especially in perinatal mental health support.

14.We recommend that the Government include the early years in their plans for children and young people’s mental health following the consultation.

18.We recommend that the Government commit to a full assessment of the current transition arrangements between child and adult mental health services.

19.We recommend that the Government target funding for mental health support into areas of social disadvantage and inequality. 

33.The assumptions underpinning the Green Paper have been based on out of date prevalence data, and there is a widespread expectation that the level of demand will prove to have been underestimated.

34.We recommend that following the release of new ONS prevalence data the Government fully recalibrate the Green Paper proposals which are contingent on the updated understanding of demand. This assessment should include matters of funding which have been costed using existing prevalence assumptions. 

46.The long timeframes involved in implementing the Green Paper’s proposals will leave hundreds of thousands of children and young people unable to benefit from this strategy over the next few years. Rolling out the plans to only “a fifth to a quarter of the country by 2022/23” is not ambitious enough. We advocate more widespread implementation and iterative learning methods to inform best practice across the piece. 

It makes for sober reading. But it’s many people’s reality. I’m angry that we are letting our children and young people down. They are the future and must receive proper care when they need it.

* Kirsten Johnson is an Oxfordshire County Councillor and Day Editor for Lib Dem Voice. She stood as the Parliamentary Candidate for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election.

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