To mark Children’s Mental Health Week, on Tuesday, the Department for Education (DoE) has published its third annual State of the Nation report. The Government commissioned research indicates there has been a gradual improvement in the overall wellbeing of children and young people over the last year, despite the continuing influence of the Covid-19 pandemic.
DoE analysis of 2020-21 data, collected from a diverse range of sources, suggests that reductions in wellbeing occurred most rapidly when schools were closed, with the trend reversing following a relaxation of restrictions.
The report comes as the Government announced that it is ahead of its target for nearly 400 new Mental Health Support Teams, which will be accessible for almost three million school and college pupils in England by the end of 2023.
The Department for Education announces that children’s mental health services are rapidly improving
In 2017, the then Conservative Government under Theresa May released the ‘Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision’ green paper, which detailed proposals for expanding access to mental health care for children and young people through in-school Mental Health Support Teams.
The new Teams aim to actively improve referral links between schools and local children and young people’s mental health services by embedding specialist NHS staff within the local educational infrastructure to better enable early interventions.
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At the publication of the State of the Nation report, Children and Families Minister, Will Quince, emphasised the importance of the return to face-to-face learning represented in the positive upturn in wellbeing figures and pointed to the recent strides made forwards in improving access to children’s mental health services.
He said: “The resilience of children and young people should never be underestimated. Though they have coped remarkably well over the last few years, this report once again highlights that school is often the very best place for their education and wellbeing.”
“These two things must go hand in hand, which is exactly why we are investing so significantly in mental health services, both by improving access to NHS services and by making tailored support available in schools and colleges, with training for staff to confidently deliver this.”
Mental health expert says the policy is still not “ambitious enough”
However, in contrast to the optimism of the DoE announcement, on Tuesday, children’s wellbeing expert, Lord Layard, told the Commons education committee that Government educational policy, from the 2017 publication of the green paper onwards, wasn’t “ambitious enough” to deal with the problems of delivery in-built in children’s mental health services.
Lord Layard told MPs that current targets would mean that only a third of students will have access to Mental Health Support Teams in England by 2022-23. He urged the committee to push the Government to go beyond this target and to fully cover all students by the conclusion of the next Parliament.
Furthermore, he said that these Teams should aspire to resemble adult Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services, rather than Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) – both in providing low- and high- levels of support and by adequately measuring patient outcomes.
Lord Layard laid out the long-established problems in children’s services by commenting: "The young people in the most trouble are the people who are diagnosable – we are talking about 10% of our children… The shocking thing is that only about a third of these children get any form of specialist support. This is much worse than for adults."
"It's unbelievable that we have that situation, we have CAMHS that has such a high threshold – unless you're stabbing your sister or something like that, you're assessed not to be bad enough… And until recently, there have been no resources for anyone below the CAMHS threshold."