The Government has this week published its latest plans to transforming mental health services for children and young people. While their plans for a significant increase in the workforce to support mental health in schools are an important step forward, and one that will help thousands of children who are struggling, they do not go far or fast enough.
And there is a particularly long way to go before children who have suffered abuse are able to access the mental health support they need to get their lives back on track. Mental health services have long been denied funding and status within the NHS, with services for children and young people losing out most of all - accounting for just 6% of the overall NHS spend on mental health in 2016/17.
As a result, more than two thirds of children with a diagnosable mental health condition are unable to access any support whatsoever through the NHS, with an average of 150 children who are referred into NHS child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) rejected every day.
Widening access to support and treatment – including early intervention provision which can prevent low-level mental health problems from escalating – is therefore crucial. But schools are currently overwhelmed by the scale of demand for mental health support. The number of referrals from schools into CAMHS has increased by one third over the past three years alone.
But despite this week’s announcement of 8,000 specialist staff to work in schools with children and young people, the majority of children will continue to miss out. In the best case scenario – pending the approval of as-yet-unsecured funding – increased support will be available to schools in just one quarter of the country by 2022/23. And some groups of young people are even more likely to miss out on access to support, despite being more vulnerable to experiencing mental health problems.
NHS England requires all 195 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in England to publish annual plans for the mental health needs of young people in their area, and then use this to inform how services will be improved in future. They are required to address the needs of vulnerable children, including such as children who have suffered abuse. These children are twice as likely to develop depression, and this depression is generally more resistant to treatment.
But new NSPCC analysis published this week reveals that just 12% of CCGs are properly planning for the needs of abused children. This means that an estimated 1.3 million children in England who have suffered abuse are potentially missing out, living in areas with an inadequate plan to support their mental health, or no plan whatsoever.
So we need both Government and individual CCGs to up their game. There is nothing inevitable about child abuse, and it is the responsibility of all of us to prevent it wherever possible by looking out for warning signs and reporting any concerns. But where abuse does happen, we need to do everything possible to support the children affected.
The NSPCC will repeat our analysis next year, and will work with CCGs in the meantime to help them improve their mental health offers for children who have been abused. Together, we must ensure that these children are not denied the help they need.
Any adults worried about a child can contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000. Children can contact Childline on 0800 11 11.