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Education and health working together to transform children and young people’s mental health provision 

13/12/2017

Place2Be’s Chief Executive, Catherine Roche, reflects on the Government’s green paper and next steps for the consultation process. 

Last week, the Government published its green paper on ‘Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision’, setting out its ambition for “earlier intervention and prevention, a boost in support for the role played by schools and colleges, and better, faster access to NHS services.”

This is welcome news for the 1 in 10 children and young people who have a diagnosable mental health problem – as well as their families and the school staff that are trying their best to support them.

It is heartening to see the focus on supporting children early, before problems grow and become more complex. Place2Be’s in-school mental health support helps children and young people acknowledge and address difficult feelings, to both provide immediate support and also importantly to help them learn valuable coping skills and resilience that they can carry through their whole lives.

As one seven-year-old told us: “When I have a big, big problem and I don't want to tell the teacher, I come for a different person to talk to and it makes it clearer and I know what to do if it happens again.”

We know that children are less likely to suffer from serious mental health difficulties in later life if they receive support at an early age, providing a cost saving to adult mental health services. Evidence gathered from our own services shows that high quality support for children’s mental health has a positive impact on a range of factors including attitudes to learning, improved friendships and improved home life.

The role of schools

We’re particularly pleased that the green paper recognises schools and colleges as a vital part of any solution to improve children and young people’s mental health. We know from our experience of working directly with schools over the last 23 years that they can play an absolutely crucial role in supporting their pupils: creating a culture of openness, identifying potential problems early and providing support in a familiar environment without the stigma often attached to mental health services in the NHS.

Many schools are already doing this. In fact, our survey conducted earlier this year in partnership with the NAHT found that 93% of school leaders say pupils bring more worries into school than they did 5 years ago, and 92% said teaching staff have to manage issues for pupils that go beyond their professional role.

Schools cannot cope with this alone. We need to ensure both teachers and school leaders are properly supported and resourced to provide a ‘whole school approach’ to mental health. The proposal for a ‘Designated Senior Lead’ in every school could be a good starting point. But proper training and support will be essential to make this role viable, and must be of sufficient quality and depth to empower change.

The proposal for new ‘mental health support teams’ could also be a helpful additional resource for schools. Adding capacity and providing a strong and clear link to more specialist NHS mental health services would be very valuable – provided the mental health support teams are suitably trained and experienced, can work in the school context, are supported through supervision and are backed up by adequately resourced specialist services within CAMHS.

In a similar way, Place2Be’s school-based mental health professionals aim to help schools to build close links with local CAMHS in order to make sure that any referrals are well-managed for the children and young people involved and that the end-to-end system is integrated. We firmly believe that children’s mental health provision can be transformed when health services and education work together effectively.

Implementation

The biggest challenge will come with the implementation phase. Quite rightly, the paper states that “we do not believe there is a single model that should be implemented nationally”. We know from our experience how important it is to be flexible and open to different ways of working in different schools, where there are different needs.

There is so much excellent work going on already in schools across England, and the rest of the UK. We are keen to see assurance that these new proposals will be truly additional, and focused on building on good practice rather than reinventing the wheel, or worse, undoing what is working well.

We will be talking to our networks over the coming months to further understand and interrogate the proposals, and we look forward to submitting our response in the New Year. Overall, it is a fantastic opportunity to be part of what could be a truly transformative period for children and young people, and we are hopeful that now is the moment to seize this opportunity and make a difference to future generations. 

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