TWO years after the Prime Minister vowed to tackle “burning injustices”, the Government is failing the children most at risk of mental-health problems, charities have warned.
Their concerns about the Government’s Green Paper on child mental-health echo those of MPs: the Education and Health and Social Care Committees’ review, published last week, concluded that the paper “lacks ambition and will provide no help to the majority of children who desperately need it”.
“The Government’s plans do little to improve support for the most vulnerable groups of children, including those affected by sexual abuse and neglect, domestic violence and drug and alcohol misuse, those excluded from school, and refugee children,” the chief executive of the Children’s Society, Matthew Reed, said.
The latest ONS statistics suggest that one in ten children in Britain is living with a diagnosable mental-health condition. The rate is higher among those in care or in the criminal-justice system, LGBT children, those with disabilities, and those from economically disadvantaged families. At the age of 11, children from the poorest 20 per cent of households are four times more likely to have a serious mental-health difficulty than those in the wealthiest 20 per cent.
The Select Committee expresses disappointment that this element was not part of the review underpinning the Green Paper, describing it as “out of step” with the Prime Minister’s stated commitment to addressing “burning injustices”. It also says that the proposals “will not meet the needs of looked-after children” — and “may well exacerbate them”.
Public Health England says that only one quarter of children who need mental-health treatment receive it. They face long waits — nearly two months, on average — for an initial assessment. The Green Paper recommends that every school and college should have a “designated senior lead for mental health”, and that “trailblazer” schemes pilot a maximum four-week wait for access to children’s mental-health services.
The suggested speed of delivery would leave hundreds of thousands of children “with no improvements in provision for several years”, the Select Committee warned. Many could be reached, quickly, if the Government made a committment to having counsellors in all secondary schools and colleges, Mr Reed said. The Children’s Society is also suggesting that at least one “trailblazer” should focus on the most vulnerable children, and that the Government make up the £2-billion estimated shortfall in local authority funding for children’s services.
The MPs’ review warns that the Green Paper’s proposals will place “significant pressure” on teachers, without guaranteeing resources, and “little or no attention” is given to prevention or early intervention.
“Early-years settings are invisible in the Government’s plans,” the director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, Imran Hussein, said. “With 28 per cent of pre-school children facing difficulties that can impact on their mental health, it’s imperative the Government commits [itself] to doing more for this group.” He also drew attention to children in care, almost half whom have a diagnosable mental-health issue. Sixty-one per cent are in care owing to abuse and neglect, “experiences that have a profound impact on a child’s mental health”.
The £200 million attached to the Green Paper comes after £1.25 billion of additional investment in children’s mental health was promised by the Chancellor in 2015, to be spread over five years. Witnesses raised concerns with MPs, however, about recruitment and retention of staff in NHS mental-health trusts. The British Psychological Society has called for a “seismic shift” in children’s provision.