Less than one in four children received the mental health help they needed last year

As World Mental Health Day approaches, the children's commissioner says changes to mental health provision are 'unacceptably slow'

Adi Bloom

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Around one in four children with mental health problems received help in the last year, a new report by the children’s commissioner reveals.

And children’s commissioner Anne Longfield argues that, despite the government’s claims to prioritise mental health, progress has been “unacceptably slow”.

The report, published to coincide with World Mental Health Day tomorrow, estimates that only between a quarter and a fifth of children with mental health conditions received help last year.

The overwhelming majority of NHS mental health spending goes to fund care for those with the most severe needs, the report states. It adds: “This is despite the fact that early intervention is much cheaper to deliver…and highly cost-effective in preventing conditions escalating.”

The report also argues that “the government’s much-vaunted prioritisation of mental health has yet to translate into change at a local level”.

'Unacceptably slow'

In particular, the NHS still does not identify how many children who are referred to child and adolescent mental-health services do not receive treatment, or how long children are waiting between referral and treatment. And it does not catalogue the number of children who drop out of treatment, or whether or not treatment is effective at improving children’s mental health.

Ms Longfield wrote: “Progress in improving children’s mental health services has been unacceptably slow.

“What I want to see is not incremental change, but a wholesale shift in the scale of ambition across government and the NHS on children’s mental health care. I want to see a clear expectation as to what local areas should be providing, with transparency and accountability to ensure this happens.”

In particular, the report calls for the forthcoming government Green Paper to transform children’s mental health provision. The children’s commissioner argues that the government needs to set clear expectations, in terms of what support children will receive, and from whom.

Duties for schools

The report also outlines the following duties for schools:

  • establish a positive environment, which promotes children’s wellbeing
  • teach children of all ages about mental health and wellbeing
  • have a lead professional and a clear mental health policy
  • serve as an access point for early support for children with emerging problems. Such support would include short courses of therapy, ideally on school premises. This would be partly funded by council and NHS budgets
  • serve as a referral point into specialised services, for children with more serious needs.

The report says that the Department of Education should build up a clear evidence base for schools. And the Ofsted inspection framework would lay out clearly what inspectors would expect to see in schools.

“My message to government and parliamentarians is clear: the Green Paper is an opportunity to bring about this seismic change and it must not be missed,” Ms Longfield said. “Be bold, be brave and do not compromise. We can transform the provision of children’s mental health care, and the rewards for doing so are enormous.”

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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