On January 9 2017, The Prime Minister pledged that every secondary school in England will get free mental health training, over three years, and improved support from local health services.
This mental health training will be delivered by Mental Health First Aid UK. It will aim to ‘make school staff better at spotting signs of mental health problems in pupils.’ Her speech at the Charity Commission recognised that “help and support for children and young people with mental health problems would be needed to prevent untreated conditions blighting lives”. On 17 January, the education secretary, Justine Greening, writing in The Times, said the government also wanted to see schools get “the best support” from their local mental health services, “so children needing help can get the right treatment as quickly as possible”. Steps to ensure this promise did not include additional funding. It will be backed by the Care Quality Commission and Ofsted” and will also include new trials to strengthen links between schools and local NHS mental health staff. In addition, Ministers have pledged a review of child and adolescent mental health services across the country, which will take place in the spring and inform a new strategy due to launch later this year.
The crucial need for funding was highlighted by Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, who ‘welcomed the focus on children’s mental wellbeing, but said it would “fall short” without proper funding, especially in the face of cuts to school budgets.’
This pledge meets a recommendation in the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) recent publication State of Children’s Rights 2016 which assesses progress towards meeting the concerns and ‘Concluding Observations’ of The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child when they examined the compliance of the UK Government to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2016. Recommendation 4 in Briefing 7, Health, of this report is: Training about mental health for staff working in schools should be improved to better equip them in responding to the needs of students facing mental health and emotional problems.’
CRAE states: ‘It’s crucial that the Government uses the State of Children’s Rights 2016, alongside the UN Committee's Concluding Observations, to urgently identify what actions it will take so that all children can have a happy and fulfilling childhood and the best start in life.’ (Briefing 1, Executive Summary, p3) It will also be used to inform strategy development, campaigns and funding bids by organisations working with children and young people.
Despite the commitment of the last three governments to attaining parity of recognition and funding between physical and mental health needs, the UN Committee highlighted that the promised investment of £1.4 billion (until 2020) in CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) is being delayed and failing to reach the frontline services where it is badly needed. CRAE recommends that this sum is ring fenced for local authorities. The year on year cuts to local authority funding have contributed to a ‘postcode lottery’ in mental health provision for children and young people. Young people’s rights are not being met consistently across the UK. ‘28% of children referred to CAMHS in 2015 were turned away – increasing to 75% in some areas. Nearly 60% of children were on a waiting list, with many forced to wait an average of 100 days.’ (Briefing 1, Executive Summary, p 9)
My personal interest, in addition to my professional commitment, in the rights of children and young people, has been raised and sharpened by the very recent arrival of my first grandchild, who is also the first of his generation in my wider family. A visceral emotional response has been added to logical, thoughtful research and discussion as this new relationship begins to affect the rest of my life. I will keep a keen look out for the new strategy for child and adolescent mental health services due out later this year following the review of CAHMS.