Government mental health plans ‘failing a generation’

Date: 17 May 2018

The government’s Green Paper, Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision, which was released in December of last year, signified a welcome move toward recognising the need for improved mental health support for young people across the UK.

Identifying that children and young people are currently waiting too long for appropriate support, the paper detailed a range of proposals designed to initiate change within schools and colleges, specialist mental health services and communities.

While voices across the health and education sectors have acknowledged that the Green Paper signifies a move in the right direction – many have also expressed concerns regarding the government’s strategy.

In a joint inquiry by the current Education and Health and Social Care Committees, a number of issues have been raised regarding the scope of the Green Paper, including a lack of focus on the prevention of mental ill-health, the absence of proposals aimed at several vulnerable groups, and increased pressure on the teaching workforce.

Worries that the proposals do not go far enough in providing important support to hundreds of thousands of children and young people have been echoed by charities and unions throughout the UK, with early years mental health provision being raised as a key issue missing from the government’s plans.

The committees summarised their concerns in a joint report, which was released in early May, arguing that the Green Paper failed to consider the importance of the early promotion of mental wellbeing in young children: 

“A lack of focus on the early years means that opportunities are being missed to promote emotional resilience and prevent mental health and wellbeing problems later in life.”

“There is no consideration given to the important role that health visitors and children’s centres can have in promoting emotional wellbeing in the early years or of the adverse impact reductions in funding for these areas might have on support for the 0 to five age group.”

Speaking about the report, CACHE Senior Subject Specialist, Janet King said:

 “This report tells us that at a time when services for children and young people are threatened, stretched, fragmented and challenged, it is unreasonable to expect that education ‘props up’ services in mental health. Indeed, not only is it unreasonable, it is poorly prepared in terms of expertise and resource for effective intervention. Staff in schools are not trained in mental health and government ill-informed perceptions are thus dangerous and nothing short of outrageous.”

“Training in the pastoral needs of children and young people arguably requires access to experts and specialists in this field. Early years staff are constantly reminded of the role of resilience for children and young people and yet resources to apply their understanding remains limited. We have learned that early intervention and ‘joined up’ working provides some buoyancy for children, young people and their families and yet identified holes in social justice are described in this report that show how we are limiting  the choices for our children and neglecting any subsequent impact to society.”

“There is much research from former campaigns and initiatives around the role of personal, social and emotional service provision and yet these are the very services that are becoming increasingly difficult to access, and as usual it is hitting our most vulnerable the most. There is very little point in declaring any intention to widen equality and participation if the needs of children and young people are not appreciated and addressed.”

“This is a time when we should be acting on the knowledge we have around widening equalities for children and young people, choice and opportunity, yet disappointingly, the report acknowledges increased demand for children and young people’s mental health services and limited choice for children and young people to improve their life chances. This is further heightened for those in specific circumstances.”

“In short, this report compounds a complacency to an exposed crisis in children and young people’s mental health – this generation is at risk of missing opportunities – this is unforgivable. Why is it at a time when we know so much we can only seem to get better at collating the data?”