Government keeps 'unambitious' mental health plan

New mental health teams will work near schools in pilot areas, despite criticism that not enough pupils will be covered by plan

Helen Ward

Third of teachers have mental health problems

The government is pressing ahead with plans aimed at improving children's mental health, despite criticism that they will fail to help hundreds of thousands of pupils.

The £300 million plan, set out in the Transforming Children and Young People’s mental health provision Green Paper late last year, include mental health teams working in and near schools and every school being encouraged to appoint a designated senior lead for mental health.

Today the government confirmed the plans will go ahead, following a consultation. This means hundreds of new mental health workers will be trained to work in the teams by the end of next year.

But Barnado's children's charity has said the government is "sleepwalking" into a children's mental health crisis because the plans will reach just 25 per cent of the country over the next four years.  

"The government's response to the green paper consultation does not show enough action on how, as a society, we are going to stop sleepwalking into a children's mental health crisis," Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnado's, said.

"The response has let down children who gave their views about the problems with the green paper and if the government does not rethink its approach, it runs the risk of letting down future generations too."

The overall mental health plan had been strongly criticised by in a joint report from the Commons education and health and social care committees earlier this year.

The committees said the plans “lack any ambition”, fail to consider how to prevent mental ill health and did not address the role of exam pressure.

The committees were also particularly concerned about the proposal to start the scheme in "trailblazer" areas covering between a fifth and a quarter of the country by 2022-23. This approach would leave hundreds of thousands of children unable to benefit, they said.

Today’s announcement confirms that the government is sticking to its intention to roll out its plans to 20 to 25 per cent of the population by the end of 2022-23.

Damian Hinds, education secretary, said: "Young people today face different pressures from those of the generations before them and, at times, it can prove difficult to know how to navigate them. I want to make sure that when signs of mental illness appear, young people know where they can access appropriate support.

"Teachers already do so much to support their pupils and we want to support them further to improve the important work done between schools and local NHS services to make sure young people can get that help quickly.‎"

The mental health support teams will be able to treat those pupils with mild to moderate mental health issues in schools and help those with more severe needs to access the right support.

The plans could mean as many as an additional 8,000 mental health workers long-term.

"Children and young people must feel supported with their mental health needs and I am determined to keep people healthy, treat their problems quickly and provide services closer to home," health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, said.

"By creating a dedicated new workforce in schools, which when in post could equate to more than the entire total current child and young person's mental health NHS workforce, we will support each and every child in fulfilling their potential as we transform mental health services in this country."

Schools will also be encouraged to have designated senior leads for mental health in school and colleges. These leads are likely to be an existing member of staff, will oversee and evaluate what is being done to support both pupils and staff mental health and will liaise with the mental health support team.

The first set of trailblazers will be announced in autumn 2018, with training beginning in January 2019, with the expectation that they will be running by December 2019.

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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