Government commits to overhaul of children's mental health services

Joe Lepper
Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The government has pledged a "complete overhaul" for children and young people's mental health services to address poor access and support.

The promise is laid out in the government’s response to the Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Taskforce’s findings, which detail how young people with mental health issues and their families are struggling to access support.

The taskforce found that around three-quarters of children and young people with a mental health disorder are not in touch with appropriate mental health services, adding that “the human case for striving to reduce this distress and suffering is overwhelming”.

The government’s response document, called Future in Mind, proposes more tailored support for young people, with commissioning better based around the needs of local young people.

Improved promotion of mental health issues across society to “create a culture where young people and their families are not afraid to seek help” is also being pledged.

There will also be a focus on “self care” using online tools and apps to help young people better spot mental health issues and seek help.

Among key concerns of the taskforce was the “cliff edge” young people face when they reach 18 and their support moves to adult services. The government has pledged to ensure support for teenagers carries on uninterrupted into their early 20s.

The government has also reiterated its pledge to halt the detention of young people in police cells under the Mental Health Act.

In February the Home Affairs Committee blamed this continued use of cells on failures by NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to commission appropriate “places of safety” in health settings.

In addition, the government has pledged early intervention support for families as well as better mental health training for health professionals that work with children, including GPs.

The government also accepts that access for children and young people who are particularly vulnerable, such as those in care and young offenders, needs to improve.

Care minister Norman Lamb said: "I want to change the way we think about mental health care so that any child, whether they have a mental illness or simply need support through a difficult time, can get the right help at the right time.

“There are some excellent examples of areas that have got this right with ‘one-stop shop’ services in the community, information and support online via apps, and help for whole families. These plans set out how we can ensure no child is left struggling alone.”

At the weekend deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced an extra £1.25bn will be made available for child mental health services over the next five years. This is expected to be unveiled in the budget this week.

Professor Sue Bailey, chair of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, said while the extra funding is “very welcome” she warned that it will not be enough to “address all of the issues flagged in the report”.

Young Minds chief executive Sarah Brennan urged the government to commit to publishing an annual progress report on meeting its pledges.

She said: “For children, young people and their families the report of the taskforce will only mean something to them when they can see real progress on the ground.

"It is vital that the momentum the taskforce has generated is maintained and that all those who have a part to play in delivering its recommendations are held to account.

“We cannot allow it to become another well-meaning report that just ends up on a shelf, it is too important for children, young people and their families who are desperate for help and support.”

Meanwhile, National Children’s Bureau chief executive Anna Feuchtwang fears that a lack of local information about mental health needs remains a barrier to progress.

She said: “If mental health services are to be planned and commissioned effectively, we need reliable data on what is required and where the need for specialist support is identified, it must be resourced on a par with physical health services.”

The Royal College of Psychiatrists child and adolescent faculty chair Dr Peter Hindley added: “Historically, the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people is an area where need has risen, but where investment and services just haven’t kept up.”

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