Government pledges to improve support for children's mental health

New scheme will fund senior leads for mental health in English schools and colleges

Children in England will be able to access enhanced mental health support in their school or college under government plans to improve the treatment of mental illness in young people.

Picture: Stockbyte

A green paper published today sets out proposals to increase support and provide earlier access to services, with more than £300 million in additional funding pledged over the next three years.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the aim was to ensure mental health problems were identified and treated as early as possible.

Creation of new lead role

Under the plan, every school and college in England will be given funding to appoint a designated senior lead for mental health to co-ordinate existing support services, as well as helping children access specialist therapies and other NHS treatments.

The senior leads will be responsible for developing a 'whole school' approach to the issue – including ensuring pastoral support is available to all pupils and that effective policies are in place to tackle bullying and other behaviours that can cause mental distress.

The staff in the new roles will be backed by the creation of mental health support teams to improve link-ups between schools and the NHS, and to provide specialist support and treatments in or near schools and colleges.

Over the next five years, ministers say they expect to recruit 'several thousand' people to the teams, who could be trained to offer cognitive behavioural therapy and other treatments in the classroom.

The government plans to provide £215 million over the next three years to fund the teams, with a further £95 million for the training of the senior leads.

Urgent need for early intervention

Mr Hunt said: 'Around half of all cases of mental illness start before the age of 14, so it is vital that children get support as soon as they need it – in the classroom.

'If we catch mental ill health early, we can treat it and stop it turning into something more serious.'

Other proposals in the green paper include:

  • Piloting a new maximum four-week waiting time for NHS children and young people's mental health services.
  • Ensuring every primary and secondary school in England is offered mental health awareness training.
  • Commissioning further research into 'evidence gaps' across children's mental health issues, including how better to support vulnerable families.

A 'step change' for mental health services

The plans were broadly welcomed by the children's commissioner for England Anne Longfield, who said they represented a 'step change' by the government.

'Schools are the best place to make early intervention work and the best hubs for its expansion,' she said.

'The question remains whether the funding that has been announced will be enough. We welcome what there is and will keep an eye on how this might be spent in the long term.'

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