The Government’s commitment to mental health needs to go further

The Government’s Green Paper on Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision, published in December, has received mixed reviews. There is a consensus among education experts of the need for a radical intervention from the Government to provide better support for children experiencing mental health issues across the country. Whilst the Paper sets out important and worthwhile provisions, these are only offered to a quarter of schools across the UK. This fails to show the ambition required to deal with the widespread problems and will further exacerbate the inequalities felt in the education system.

The Green Paper has been published in light of evidence that children are not getting the mental health support they need. Children’s charity Spurgeons published figures from 32 NHS Trusts in England from April 2015-2016 showing that approximately 60 per cent of under 18s who are referred to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) by their GP are not receiving treatment. Self-harm admissions to A&E have also increased for the seventh consecutive year and yet outpatient treatment rates have fallen, suggesting that young people are not receiving treatment that could fundamentally alter their health outcomes, even after being hospitalised. When launching the Green Paper, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt acknowledged that half of all mental illnesses develop before the age of 14 and, if they go untreated, could develop into something “more serious.” The Education Policy Institute submitted evidence to the Education and Health Select Committee’s report on Children and Young People’s Mental Health last April, noting that current provisions leave children in a postcode lottery of waiting times and, in nearly a quarter of instances, being turned away from services they have been referred to.

The Green Paper commits £1.4bn to children and young people’s mental health provision and the recruitment of 1,700 more therapists and mental health professionals into the education space. It commits to the investment of £30m into services for eating disorders, which are particularly prevalent amongst children and young people, and introduces waiting times for eating disorder and psychosis services. In the words of the General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, Paul Whiteman, this “could be a significant step” towards the goal of supporting children and their needs.  Prior to its publication, the Green Paper had been hailed by Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, as an opportunity to bring about “seismic change” with potential for “enormous” awards.

However, the Green Paper introduces provisions in only one of four schools by 2022. This means that instead of addressing one of the most significant challenges in the education sector right now – namely the postcode lottery for provisions – in reality it potentially leaves three quarters of children without help.