The Government recently asked for views on their plans for improving children and young people’s mental health.

Posted by AfC Policy and campaigns / Friday 09 March 2018 / Mental health

The Government recently asked for views on their plans for improving children and young people’s mental health. 

With approximately one in ten 5-16 year olds in the UK with a diagnosable mental health condition, this was a crucial opportunity. Of these children and young people, only 25-40 per cent actually receive mental health support. The Care Quality Commission’s recent review found that children and young people often don’t meet the criteria for support from mental health services, and are not referred to alternatives.

The new proposals are not the first government announcement on this area. The Government has already committed £1.4 billion for children and young people’s mental health over five years. They’re also trying to address the chronic shortages in the mental health workforce, recruiting 1,700 therapists and supervisors, and training 3,400 staff already working in mental health by 2020/21. However, some local health bodies are spending funding on other priorities. To make a difference for children, the Government must ensure this money is used as intended.

So something is happening, but not enough. Hence the anticipation over the Government’s green paper, released in December. This has three core proposals:

  • Every school to have a Designated Senior Lead for Mental Health by 2025.

The Designated Lead will oversee the help schools give to pupils with mental health difficulties, help staff spot pupils with potential mental health problems, and refer children to specialist services.

  •  Mental Health Support Teams to be introduced.

These teams of specially trained staff will improve how primary and secondary schools and colleges work with mental health services. Different approaches will be trialled in ‘trailblazers’ areas that will start delivery in 2019.

  •  A new four-week waiting period is to be trialled in certain areas. The average waiting time for access to specialist services is currently 12 weeks, but in some areas they can be as long as 26 weeks.

Action for Children welcomes these proposals. As an organisation that delivers support in schools we recognise the vital role they can have. For example, with the support of Royal Mail we are running the Blues Programme, a six-week programme for 15-18 year olds which takes place in schools. It’s good that the Government have put schools at the centre of their proposals but the scale and time-frames of the plans are not ambitious enough.


And schools are should not be the end of the story 

It’s disappointing that early year’s settings were not included in government plans, especially given the apparent emphasis on early intervention and prevention. With 28 per cent of preschool children facing difficulties that can impact on their mental health, the Government must now also consider the needs of younger children. 

The Government’s focus on schools and colleges also risks overlooking children and young people not in mainstream education. Some of these children and young people are vulnerable, requiring a targeted response. Similarly, there is no mention of refugee and asylum-seeking children, who are at greater risk of experiencing mental health difficulties.

Perhaps most disappointing of all,  none of the recommendations of the Expert Working Group, set up specifically to consider the mental health and wellbeing of vulnerable groups like children in care and care leavers, were included. Children in care are more likely to struggle with mental health difficulties than children in the general population. To not include how to meet their needs alongside their peers feels like a missed opportunity.


The Government will respond to the feedback on their plans in the next few months. We’re hoping they will use this as an opportunity to increase the pace of change to improve children and young people’s mental health and to ensure those at highest risk are not excluded. 

You can read more about our services and the support they offer for mental health here.

British Psychological Society (2017) Briefing Paper: Children and young people’s mental health: schools and colleges.

CQC (2018) Are we listening? Review of children and young people’s mental health services.

Young Minds.

Street, C., Atkinson, M., and Tuffrey A. (2017) Mental health and emotional wellbeing for children and young people, the current landscape in England.

Sebates and Dex (2013) Multiple risk factors in young children’s development.

Mind (2009) A Civilised Society: Mental health provision for refugees and asylum-seekers in England and Wales.

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