Why mental health care for children and young people is such an urgent priority

I was delighted to co-chair the Children and Young People’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (CYP IAPT) National Conference with two amazing young sessional workers from the Great Involvement, Future Thinking (GIFT) team, Jude and Charlotte.

The conference brought over 300 delegates from our 82 CYP IAPT partnerships, sharing learning about how to improve the experience of young service users and their families, all based on the experience of the CYP IAPT programme over the last three years.

It was fantastic to see how participation is at the heart of the CYP IAPT programme, with young people and parents fully involved in planning and running the day.

Young users and parents shared their expertise with delegates, delivering plenary speeches and workshops on activity in their local area, interviewing delegates including the Health Minister Norman Lamb and reporting the day on Twitter.

If you have any doubt about the importance of young people getting access to timely expert help that is guided through regular feedback, take a look at the inspirational poem written by Leanne, a GIFT young sessional worker, about her experience of using outcome monitoring – Hope from a dark place.

Earlier this month we had the second meeting of the Minister’s Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Taskforce.

A total of 62 people, ranging from young people to head teachers, Child and Adolescent mental Health Services (CAMHS) professionals and system leaders, met to consider the initial thoughts from four sub groups: Vulnerable groups and Inequalities, Access and Prevention, a Coordinated System and Data and Standards.

There will be further focus groups for young people, parents and professionals. I am co-chairing the ‘Coordinated System’ group with Sally Burlington, Head of Programmes for Children and Adults at the Local Government Association.

There is a so much to do to produce a report that can support the implementation of real action by early next year. Everyone is determined to build on what we know works and end the challenging and damaging cycle of investment and disinvestment.

The Taskforce couldn’t have met in a more important week. The Health Select Committee report on Children’s and Young People’s Mental Health was published on the 5th November with widespread media coverage from BBC News at breakfast ending in Channel 4 News, Newsnight and front page coverage in newspapers.

The report is a challenging read and is very clear in its criticisms but also acknowledges the commitment by those that work in the field, acknowledging a lot of good practice and strong ambition for change.

Reading the report as a paediatric specialist, I was pleased to see the views of those outside of specialist CAMHS included. More crisis services in the community, including robust Paediatric Liaison Services between acute hospitals and local CAMHS is an absolute must-do for me.

Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments are often in the frontline of receiving children and young people in mental health crisis. More training, support, advice and guidance would be welcomed by the staff in these acute areas, and by the young people and their parents or carers who attend.

If these vulnerable young people are surrounded by professionals with knowledge of what they’re going through then it makes any process less scary for those involved – and accessing expert help quickly benefits everyone involved.

I also want to see an end to placing children and young people in police cells when they are in a crisis – as the Chair of the Health Select Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston wrote in the Observer this weekend, we wouldn’t dream of placing a child with a broken leg in a police cell while they waited for treatment, so why is it acceptable for this to happen to young children and young people with mental illness?

I can’t help wondering how it is that I can be surrounded by so many committed young people, professionals and officials all of whom highlight again and again solutions for the challenges facing children and young people with mental health problems.

We know there are evidence based treatments out there. We know about the importance of involving children, young people and families in their care.   We know the consequences for children and young people if they don’t get the right help at the right time. We know that investment in pre-referral resilience building through to specialist services saves money in the long term.

Taking forward all this knowledge, skill and experience, putting the young person and family at the centre of our care and ensuring that this is sustainable in the long-term is our most urgent priority.

Jacqueline Cornish

Dr Jacqueline Cornish was the National Clinical Director for Children, Young People and Transition to Adulthood in NHS England from 2013 to 2019.

As a clinician she specialised in pioneering treatments for childhood cancer and leukaemia, and brought to NHS England 20 years’ leadership experience in the NHS, having been Head of Division of Women’s and Children’s Services at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, and a former Director of Paediatric Stem Cell Transplant (SCT) at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children.

The post of National Clinical Director for Children and Young People is now held by Professor Simon Kenny, Consultant Paediatric Surgeon at Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool and National Clinical Lead for Paediatric Surgery for the Getting It Right First Time programme.

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  1. D Nicholas says:

    NHS in my view do not take children with special needs seriously enough. My child has AD/HD and ASD and I was laughed at by the consultant when I asked if there were therapies that would help him as well as medication or instead of. Things got so desperate my son was referred urgently to CAMHS 2 or 3 times just to be dismissed after initial interview. No where to turn like thousands of other families I turned to a small charity who quite literally saved my son and my sanity and they are now having to close dye to funding being pulled even though NHS employees are still referring children to them they are not funding them. Hundreds of children will be left with no care, no help, nowhere to turn to and their lives quite literally at risk. So No the NHS do not take children’s mental health seriously enough or a priority.