Children’s Mental Health week, facilitated by Place2Be, 5th-11th February 2024, on the theme of ‘My Voice Matters’. This theme is about empowering children and young people to express themselves so that their voices are heard and they believe they can make a difference. In ChurchWorks we have been exploring what local churches can do to play a part in this.
Place2Be offer free resources for schools, families, parents and organisations who want to take part in the campaign through running an ‘Express Yourself’ fundraiser, starting conversations, or raising awareness of how we can care for our mental health.
We know that one in six children in England has a probable mental health condition and that half of adults with a mental health diagnosis started to develop it before the age of 14. As such it is extremely important that we prioritise the mental wellbeing and resilience of children and young people if we want to see a healthy society in the future.
In 2023, senior leaders and mental health experts from 18 different organisations wrote an open letter to decision-makers asking for a long-term plan for the health of children and young people which focused on prevention and early intervention. This would include better support for schools as well as integration between community organisations, family life, statutory services and school.
Mental Health Support Teams consist of mental health professionals who are based in schools. The government’s target is for 35% of England to be covered by these teams. However, schools without access to these teams often pay for counselling and mental health support out of their own budget. With budget cuts for schools, more will be in need of accessing Mental Health Support Teams in order to care for their children.
Despite previously promising a 10 year plan for tackling mental health, the government announced in May 2023 that this will be rolled into the Major Conditions Strategy. As such, we are still waiting for strategic action to be taken by the Department for Health and Social Care on preventing and supporting the mental health of young people.
What are political leaders doing about Children and Young People’s Mental Health
In recent months, the House of Commons produced a briefing on Government policy on Children and Young People’s mental health over the last few years.
It highlights that, in 2018, the Government committed to adopting several proposals made in a green paper on the subject. These proposals were:
- To incentivise and support all schools and colleges to identify and train a Designated Senior Lead for mental health.
- To fund new Mental Health Support Teams supervised by NHS children and young people’s mental health staff.
- To pilot a four-week waiting time for access to specialist NHS children and young people’s mental health services.
The briefing also highlights that, in 2019, the Government released its NHS Long Term Plan which set out goals for the next five years, including:
- By 2023/24, at least 345,000 additional children and young people (up to age 25) will be able to access mental health support through NHS services or school or college-based Mental Health Support Teams.
- The NHS will work with schools, parents and local councils to embed school and college-based mental health support for children and young people.
The most recent development to note is that mental ill health is one of the six major health conditions driving mortality that are included in the Government’s Major Conditions Strategy. It is worth mentioning, however, that mental ill health is different from the other major conditions, including cancer and cardiovascular disease, which are purely physical. Some have suggested, therefore, that mental ill health would be better addressed through a distinct, separate strategy instead.
At the beginning of January, Labour announced its Child Health Action Plan, declaring its hope that this will ‘create the healthiest generation of children ever’.
One of the key aims of the plan is to ‘End the crisis in child mental health’. They state that they will ‘tackle the crisis in children and young people’s mental health services’ by:
- Cutting waiting lists for mental health services by recruiting thousands more staff
- Introducing specialist mental health support for children and young people in every school
- Delivering an open access children and young people’s mental health hub for every community
Importantly, they claim that they will fund this plan ‘by abolishing tax loopholes for private equity fund managers and tax breaks for private schools.’
These are admirable goals but of course, should Labour succeed in being voted into Government, the road to achieving them won’t be easy given the complexity of the problems currently faced by the NHS.
So what can we do?
Last week ChurchWorks hosted an online webinar on Children, Young People and Mental Health in collaboration with some of our partner organisations - Kick, TLG, Kintsugi Hope & The Salvation Army. We had over 60 churches across the country join us online, from Cornwall to Scotland.
What came through time and time again was the importance of creating safe spaces where young people feel able to ‘feel their feelings’, be heard and met with compassion. Our partner organisations have resources available for you to be able to offer this to young people in your community.
If you’d like more information check out the organisation websites above for practical resources, programmes, games and podcasts.
If you missed the event, you can catch up here.