We must build on the momentum of recent policy announcements on children’s mental health, argues Keith Clements, Policy Officer at the National Children’s Bureau.
Children’s mental health services have been described as a ‘Cinderella service’ and in recent years we have seen evidence of cuts and shocking examples of children and young people being let down.
It will therefore be heartening for those working in the children’s sector that mental health and emotional wellbeing is turning out to be an area of significant discussion in the run up to the general election.
Earlier this month, the Labour leader, Ed Miliband welcomed the publication of an independent report commissioned by his party on this very subject. In his speech announcing its launch, he indicated support for a number of its recommendations in relation to children and young people’s access to mental health services.
Mr Miliband stressed that both teachers and health professionals should have training in mental health. It is vital that all those working with children and young people know how to identify and respond to potential mental health issues, providing an appropriate level of support in their current setting, and being able to refer for more specialist help when needed. NCB has called for the early identification of mental health difficulties to be a core competency of the children’s workforce and highlighted the need for better training for GPs in children’s mental and physical health.
It has also been pledged that a Labour government would introduce a 28-day waiting time standard for children’s, as well as adults’, access to talking therapy and increase the proportion of mental health spending dedicated to children and young people’s services. Such action would go some way to supporting the commissioning of adequate services to meet children’s mental health needs.
As our submission to the health select committees inquiry into CAMHS, and the committee’s resulting report described, there is a ‘fog’ around the level of need and who is responsible for meeting it. The Department of Health is currently developing a survey on children and young people’s mental health and NCB is calling for this to be repeated regularly to inform the planning of services.
Last year, the coalition government appointed a children and young people’s mental health and emotional wellbeing taskforce and their report is expected soon. If this sets out ambitious and well-targeted measures, this will add to the probability that whoever comes to power in May, they will have a clear plan for improving support for children and young people’s mental health.
In the mean time, the Chancellor’s autumn statement announced £150 million more funding to tackle eating disorders, giving another clear sign that this issue may finally be getting the kind of attention it deserves.
It will be vital that this momentum follows through into the establishment of a comprehensive strategy that can stand the test of time, addressing issues from the systematic underinvestment and lack of data, to better training for professionals and support for young people to develop resilience. It is only with co-ordinated action that policy promises will result in children and young people enjoying better mental health.