‘Chasm’ remains in children’s mental health offering

The Children’s Commissioner for England has warned that a ‘chasm’ remains between what children’s mental health services are available and what children need.

Anne Longfield’s The state of children’s mental health services report shines a light on the provision of Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services (CYPMHS) for the hundreds of thousands of children who need help, support and treatment.

It found that, while the NHS has made tangible progress in the provision of mental health services for children, the current system is still far away from adequately meeting the needs of all of the estimated 12.8 per cent of children in England with mental health problems – or the many more children who fall just below the threshold for clinical diagnosis.

Services are improving, with an extra £60 million invested in specialist children’s mental health services and an additional 53,000 children entering treatment. There has been a particular improvement in eating disorder services, where the number of children accessing services has increased by almost 50 per cent since 2016/17.

However, services are still far from where they need to be. Just over three per cent of children were referred to services last year, only one in four of children with a diagnosable mental health condition.

The report also found that children are waiting just under eight weeks to enter treatment. Where a waiting time target has been introduced – currently just for eating disorders – waiting times are much shorter and 80 per cent of children accessed eating disorder services within four weeks. However, even though children account for 20 per cent of the population, they account for only 10 per cent of total mental health spending. On average, the NHS spends £225 for every adult and £92 for every child.

Longfield said: “There is still a chasm between what children need and what is being provided. More children are seeking help for their mental health and the government need to make sure that help is available. We are still a decade away from a decent mental health service for all children. It is still not clear whether national and local government and the NHS is facing up to the scale of problems in children’s mental health services and the devastating impact this has on children. The government doesn’t have a plan for a comprehensive service in every area and there is still no commitment to a counsellor in every school, which would make a huge difference.

“After years of government announcements on children’s mental health, children’s mental health remains the poor relation of NHS spending, receiving a fraction of the money invested in adults. Most areas are still spending less than one per cent of their budget on children’s mental health services, and the postcode lottery of care means some areas are years ahead of others in improving services. It is important to recognise and welcome the real progress that is being made. More children are receiving the help they need and even more will in the future. But the government urgently needs to commit in the next Spending Review to providing help for 100 per cent of children, not just 20 per cent. If not, thousands of children with mental health problems will continue to suffer and become adults without getting the help they need.”