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Troubled children at risk from mental health proposals, warn therapists

Children at risk from mental health therapists.

Therapists have warned Ministers that young people with the most serious mental health problems will be harmed by flawed government plans to boost services in schools for troubled children.

A green paper has been prepared outlining proposals to improve mental health services in schools, however, according to the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP) the proposals are flawed, stating that they are “inadequate” and likely to produce a number of “adverse consequences and failures”.

The green paper focuses on earlier intervention and prevention of mental health problems, especially in and linked to schools and colleges.

The proposals include:-

  • Creating a new mental health workforce of community-based mental health support teams.
  • Every school and college will be encouraged to appoint a designated lead for mental health.
  • A new 4-week waiting time for NHS children and young people’s mental health services to be piloted in some areas.

The ACP fears that NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) will struggle even more to keep up with a fast-rising demand for care if they are given the job of supervising the new mental health support teams (MHSTs) in schools envisaged in the green paper.

It appears that assistance from CAMHS is already very difficult to access and the threshold to access help is getting higher and higher. If MHSTs require CAMHS support, it may be that access for children to the services may become even more difficult and the threshold to access help may get higher still. Understaffing means that many children wait a long time to start receiving CAMHS care already, let alone once MHSTs are introduced.

Dr Nick Waggett, the ACP’s chief executive, has said: “Our key concern is that the already stretched resources in child mental health will be used to support new services in schools instead of, rather than as well as, the specialist NHS services that are required for the most vulnerable and ill children.”

“Specialist clinicians and services are already being downgraded and we fear the green paper will accelerate this so that we end up with a very limited service in schools with no backup from more qualified and experienced colleagues in the NHS.

“The problem is that the proposals assume there are enough qualified staff in CAMHS to supervise the new staff in schools, to treat those children referred from schools to the NHS, and to bring down the waiting time to four weeks. There aren’t.”

The ACP also says that:

  • Counsellors intended to provide most of the care in schools may lack the skills to deal with pupils who are self-harming, risk-taking or having conduct problems.
  • The plans are so ill-conceived that they could breach the “parity of esteem” between NHS services for those with physical and mental health problems that ministers promised in 2013 to institute.
  • The four-week waiting time to receive CAMHS care will prove difficult to deliver and may lead to poorer quality care.

Upon review of the ACP’s warnings, the Department of Health and Social Care has dismissed them, with a spokesman stating: “These suggestions don’t take into account our wider plans to expand mental health services in this country – one the biggest expansion of services in Europe.

“Our proposals will not divert workforce but will bring together the NHS and schools, providing significant additional resource for early intervention, improve knowledge and awareness of mental issues among school leads, and speed up referrals.”

We welcome the government’s proposal to commit £310 million in new funding to supporting mental health in young people but we do consider that these plans need to be thought through thoroughly to ensure that they will not result in resources lacking elsewhere. In addition, under-18s who self-harm or are at risk of suicide are among those with complex conditions who could lose out on vital help and this is simply not an acceptable outcome of the proposed changes.

Here at Swain & Co our specialist Mental Health Lawyers have represented many children detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983 (as amended) and have assisted them to access the help they so desperately need in the community once discharged.

Swain & Co Solicitors work tirelessly to assist vulnerable people and ensure that their rights under the Mental Health Act are observed.  If you, a family member or friend are experiencing problems or are detained under the Mental Health Act contact our team today on 023 92 483322.

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