Vulnerable children 'could be failed by mental health plans'

MPs raise concerns about lack of targeted support for vulnerable children

Helen Ward

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The mental health needs of hundreds of thousands of children will be ignored under plans set out by the government, a group of MPs said today.

The plans “lack any ambition”, fail to consider how to prevent mental ill health in the first place and could even lead to worse provision for some children, the joint report from the Commons Education and Health and Social Care committees states.

The government set out its plans to transform children and young people’s mental health in a Green Paper in December 2017.

The plans included a designated senior lead for mental health in every school and college, and new mental health support teams linked to groups of schools.

But the committee says plans to roll-out this strategy through “trailblazer” areas covering between a fifth and a quarter of the country by 2022-23 will leave hundreds of thousands of children unable to benefit from it.

Strategy 'doesn't go far enough'

“This strategy does not go far enough, which raises the very real prospect of hundreds of thousands of children missing out on the getting the help they so desperately need,” Rob Halfon, chair of the education committee, said.

“We heard of the strong links between social disadvantage and mental health issues. If the government is serious about tackling injustices in our society, it must ensure proper targeted funding of support for those most in need.”

And the report points out that the use of “trailblazer” areas risk destabilising provision in surrounding areas – with staff moving to work in areas where staffing levels and services are better.

Other issues raised by the committee include:

  • The designated senior lead for mental health has “significant potential” but it is a voluntary post.
  • Health and education services are already under great strain with stretched resources and workforce recruitment concerns.
  • The role of exam pressure has not been addressed.
  • The Green Paper fails to take fully into account the need for preventative action in the early years.

The committees also repeated their call, made last year, for social media education to be made part of the personal, social and health education curriculum.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), agreed the government’s plans did not go “far enough or fast enough”.

“The government’s Green Paper fails to address the critical problem facing schools and colleges, which is the fact that real-terms funding cuts are forcing them to cut back on existing counselling and support services at exactly the time that mental health issues are rising,” he said.

“The proposal for a designated senior lead for mental health in every school doesn’t address this problem, and may actually add to workload.

“This report confirms ASCL’s concerns that the government’s plans for improving mental health support for children and young people do not go far enough or fast enough.”

And the children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said: “Many thousands of children are failing to receive support and care when they need it and too often referrals for treatment are only being made when a child reaches crisis point. In the worst cases, children have even attempted to take their own life just to access services.

“The committee is right to say the Green Paper is not ambitious enough.”

The DfE has been contacted for comment.

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