Plea for investment in children's mental health support
- Credit: Ipswich Borough Council
Campaigners in Suffolk have called for more investment in children's mental health services - amid ongoing concerns about the Covid-19 crisis' impact on youngsters' wellbeing.
A report published this month by children's commissioner Anne Longfield exposed concerns over access to support, as well as a postcode lottery of services across the country.
It found that just one in five children referred for services began their treatment within four weeks and that the speed of services' expansion needed to increase.
The percentage increase in children accessing support was up 4% last year, compared to the 35% increase in children being referred over the same period.
Bec Jasper - co-director of Parents and Carers Together (PACT), which works with families in Suffolk - said: "We have discussions every day with Suffolk parents and carers who either have a child back in school or who are currently facilitating school work at home.
"Both are extremely challenging, but equally we hear of many positives too.
"Whilst some have historically struggled in school for many different reasons, having some of these removed has given families a new found way of working in a more relaxed, supportive atmosphere.
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“Long-term, we need to stop and take a view on prevention and early intervention, rather than waiting until the horse has bolted.
"We need to provide a trauma informed and person-centred approach, which draws on strengths of individuals and what works best for them, ultimately building children up to be mentally healthy and resilient.”
The calls, which came as part of Children's Mental Health Week, followed a summit of health leaders in Suffolk last month in which it was acknowledged that the culture of families being passed around services needed to cease.
Health leaders at the county's clinical commissioning groups, mental health foundation trust and county council are currently working on a transformation plan of mental health services in the county, which includes children's support.
A spokeswoman from the Department for Health and Social Care said: “This has been an exceptionally difficult year and we are absolutely committed to supporting the mental wellbeing of children and young people who have been uniquely impacted by this pandemic.
“Early intervention and treatment is vital, and we are providing an extra £2.3billion to help an additional 345,000 children and young people access NHS-funded services or school and college-based support.
“Alongside this, we are training a new dedicated mental health workforce to support children in schools and colleges across the country, as well as giving staff the resources to teach what good mental and physical health looks like.”
Councillor Jack Abbott, Suffolk County Council's opposition Labour group spokesman for children's services, said: “We know the educational impact of Covid is going to be significant, but the damage caused to the mental health of children and young people could far exceed it unless there is a significant, long-term investment in services.
“There needs to be a realisation that children cannot afford a poorly funded, patchwork, short-term approach to mental health.
"This was a major issue before the pandemic and has only since been exacerbated. The government must start taking the crisis in children’s mental health seriously.”