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Looking to the future - Improving mental health outcomes for children and young people

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Health Improvement, Mental health

As we approach the end of Child Mental Health Week, we reflect on the Government and PHE’s commitment to improve young people’s mental health.

Around half of all mental health problems start before the age of 14 and we know that Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are currently facing an increase in demand. Prevention is therefore key and makes sense from the point of view of children and their families.

Building on the government’s vision for children and young people’s mental health set out in Future in Mind in 2015, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Department for Education (DfE) jointly published their response in a recent green paper.

The paper contains three key announcements:

  • Incentivising every school and college to have a designated senior lead for mental health. All children and young people’s mental health services should have a link for schools and colleges to better support them in delivering on child and young people mental health and wellbeing needs. They will do this through advice, consultation and signposting for children who need it.
  • Funding for new mental health support teams, which will be supervised by NHS children and young people’s mental health staff, to provide extra capacity for early intervention and ongoing help. These teams will be linked to groups of primary and secondary schools and to colleges, providing support to those with mild to moderate needs and promoting good mental health and wellbeing. Their work will be managed jointly by schools, colleges and the NHS.
  • A four week waiting time for access to specialist NHS children and young people’s mental health services will be trialled. This builds on the expansion of specialist NHS services already underway.

Key role for PHE

The Green Paper proposes that PHE brings together a special interest group to identify key prevention evidence, its relevance to practice, and to highlight gaps to be addressed through further research.

This will add further to the suite of resources that PHE has already published which help local authorities and wider system partners prioritise upstream promotion of good mental health and prevention of mental health including the Prevention concordat for better mental health

Embedding a whole school and college approach

The green paper sets out actions that will be put in place across the education sector to strengthen the focus on children and young people’s mental health.

The designated lead for mental health in a school or college will have oversight of a ‘whole school/college approach’ which will include:

  • mental health being reflected in policies, curriculum and pastoral support
  • staff being supported with their own mental wellbeing
  • pupil and parental engagement
  • supporting staff to be able to identify children at risk and those exhibiting signs of mental health problems  pupils and students being able to access targeted support
  • oversight for assessing the outcome of interventions on children and young people’s education and wellbeing

If implemented successfully, this work will help to address many of the recommendations that NICE[i] advocate for promoting children and young people’s social and emotional wellbeing. It reflects the principles for effective practice which PHE and the children and young people’s mental health coalition published in 2015 in Promoting children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing: a whole school and college approach.

The graphic below illustrates the principles that make up the whole school / college approach.

Wider actions to benefit the mental health and wellbeing of children, young people and their families

While not disregarding the vital contribution that schools and colleges can make, PHE recognises the importance of taking action right across a child and young person’s life course and the wider context to their lives.

Alongside universal interventions, ensuring targeted mental health support reaches children, young people and families who need it most is crucial.  PHE will continue to use its data and intelligence to highlight populations most at risk.

We will influence early help reaching those most in need through our public health commissioning and wider workforce.

We will work with local authorities to support good mental health for local populations, strengthening individuals and communities, creating healthy places and addressing the wider determinants of health such as housing, education, employment, income, access to green space and transport.

Good mental health is essential for children, young people and their families to be able to thrive. The announcements set out in the Green Paper will help lay some of these foundations.

PHE will continue to highlight and emphasise the need for reducing the gap between children and young people with mental health problems and the population as a whole and will play its part in the wider system to help take the necessary action to make this a reality.


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  1. Comment by Yoga Bowers posted on

    Thank you for this an excellent, caring and comprehensive piece of work. A key issue will be how Government supports CCG#s and local authorities in addressing childhood mental illness as a key issue in their health and wellbeing strategies. Also, to ensure that they prioritise the reduction of childhood mental illness in Sustainability and Transformation Plans.
    I believe that the 2016 Childhood Obesity Plan with it supporting 2017 National child measurement programme (NCMP) is an excellent example. A major component is Its detailed operational guidance that will be considered during Ofsted inspections.
    Yoga Bowers

  2. Comment by Andy C posted on

    Lots of vital actions but always focusing on what to do, rather than why are there mental health issues, why aren’t they happy/positive etc? Where are the strategies to ensure positive, resilient and confident young people? More focus needed on the prevention in the first place. What makes a child happy? Positive?

  3. Comment by Rosalind Archer posted on

    It all requires funding and the wider picture. Mental health affects us all but, as with physical health, the disparity between the wealthy and the ordinary or poor is immense and is only set to get wider. It is all very well writing reports, however well intentioned, to the importance of mental wellbeing if what is happening in society at large is in direct contradiction to that. If you grow up in a deprived, poverty stricken, under-supported environment with major stressors then you are far more likely to succumb to depression and other mental health issues. We have to help alleviate poverty, ensure basic human needs are being met of shelter, warmth, community and connection, provide support for families since they are so often fragmented in modern society, offer opportunities to break negative patterns and have well funded mental health provision and education system as a whole. The trouble is that many initiatives and services designed to help people or achieve these things have been slashed and the effects are only just beginning. There is no point in writing a whole of other obligations and benchmarks on schools for example; they can't even meet the obligations they have due to suffering swingeing cuts. It makes this feel like a pointless exercise.

  4. Comment by Jill Beswick - Chair, School and Public Health Nurses Association posted on

    Health visitors and School Nurses are public health nurses for children and young people - they are an expert workforce who understand and who contribute every day to improving the mental health of babies, children and young people and yet missing from this blog - let’s work together on this