Last December, the government published a green paper on its proposed overhaul of mental health services for children. It has now published its response to the consultation, which campaigners have attacked for being vague and not going far enough.
First, the details contained in the green paper: it promised a £300m overhaul of mental health services for children and teenagers. Then health secretary Jeremy Hunt pointed out that half of mental health problems began before the age of 14, so the new steps would help to identify and work on mental health issues before they became more problematic.
Specifically, the government proposed earmarking £95m to ensure that every school could appoint a “mental health lead” to help secure pastoral services for children with such needs, and to tackle the widespread problem of bullying.
A further £215m would help create mental health support teams that would provide a bridge between NHS mental health teams and schools to allow earlier intervention where appropriate.
But in July 2018, leading children’s charity Barnardo’s, in response to the government confirming that the plan outlined in the green paper would go ahead, said it was “disappointed” and claimed that the plans would only reach a quarter of the population in the next few years.
It lamented the target of four weeks for children at risk to see a mental health specialist, saying that the waiting time for such appointments should be a matter of days.
“Theresa May has described mental illness as a burning injustice that required a new approach from government,” said Barnado’s chief executive Javed Khan. “However, actions speak louder than words. The government’s response to the green paper consultation does not show enough action on how as a society we are going to stop sleepwalking into a children’s mental health crisis.
“The response has let down the children who gave their views about the problems with the green paper and if the government does not rethink its approach, it runs the risk of letting down future generations too.”
He urged the government to allocate part of the £20.5bn funding promised to tackle mental health problems in young people, and to reduce waiting times nationally.
The scheme will be trialled in “trailblazer” locations from early 2019. Seven universities and colleges have been chosen to offer mental health practitioner courses from then.
There was some encouragement for the government from the NSPCC, which said that the government was right to focus on the frontline role that schools play in identifying and tackling juvenile mental health issues.
It, too, however, added that the measures did not go far enough and that the scheme “leaves too many children with no extra support in the short term. We need swift help for all our pupils, in every school. Not just those chosen to trail-blaze.”