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Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg recently announced additional funding of £1.25 billion over five years for children and young people’s mental health services. 

The extra £250 million a year represents a 35 per cent increase on the current annual budget of £700 million for treating children with mental health conditions. The Government says the money will help treat 110,000 more children over the five year period and provide rapid access to mental health support for new mothers.

As part of the package, the first access and waiting time standards for children’s mental health will be introduced and specialists in children’s talking therapy will be available in every part of the country by 2018. The funding will be targeted at helping children and young people at risk of suicide and those with issues relating to self-harming, depression or anxiety and conduct disorder. It will also extend access to services for children under five and those with autism and learning disabilities.

Mr Clegg called the new package “a seismic shift to revolutionise children’s mental healthcare”.

Changing attitudes

The funding announcement, which was confirmed in the Chancellor’s recent budget, follows the publication of a report by the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Taskforce. The report proposes a range of measures to improve services, including improving access and setting standards for waiting times. The establishment of one-stop-shop support services in the community is also recommended, along with measures to improve attitudes and tackle the stigma associated with mental health difficulties.

Prof Dame Sue Bailey, Chair of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition (CYPMHC), welcomed the report. She called on whichever party forms the Government after May’s General Election to prioritise children and young people’s mental health and put in place the actions needed to implement the report’s proposals.

However, whilst some proposals will require the backing of the next Government, Dame Sue said that others are cost neutral and require different ways of working. “We need national organisations and local agencies to take up the challenge”, she said. “This is where partnership working, the development of local transformation plans and co-commissioning will be crucial to driving through improvements in local areas”.  

According to the CYPMHC, 28 per cent of preschool children face problems in their lives that impact on their psychological development, while one in ten 5- to 16-year-olds have a mental disorder. Roughly 75 per cent of adult mental health problems are present before the age of 18.   

A “broken” system

The report and funding announcement have been widely supported by SEN third sector organisations. Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said the report “confirms that mental health services for children and young people have been a neglected part of the NHS for too long.” She welcomed the focus on the role of schools in building wellbeing and mental health. “As a universal service attended by children every day, schools bear witness to the full range of children’s needs, whether they are needs that can be met by the school or require input from another agency”, she said.

The National Autistic Society (NAS) praised the report’s proposals to bring down waiting times and address the need for emergency provision close to home. While seven in ten children with autism have an accompanying mental health problem, the NAS reports many parents as saying they struggle to get timely and appropriate support. In some cases they have to travel hundreds of miles to access the right service. NAS Chief Executive Mark Levercalled on the incoming Government to seize the opportunity to “fix our broken mental health system”. 

Contact a Family has welcomed the extra £1.25 billion of Government funding, which it says will help towards addressing the chronic under-funding of child mental health services. However, the charity warns that benefits to families may be counteracted by further benefit cuts for those with disabled children.

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