Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:13 pm on 15th January 2015.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Tyler for securing this debate. With three children in every classroom experiencing mental health problems, teachers need the right training and support to identify issues early and ensure that young people get the help that they need to recover and thrive. I would like to use my time to focus on mental health care and support in schools and on the creation of an ethos that does not ignore mental health problems but has the readily available resources and support to help children and young people proactively. Making such support available and accessible will not only be life changing for the pupil but head off later problems and lead to later savings in human and financial costs.
A recent survey by CentreForum, as part of its mental health commission, concluded that 54% of head teachers found,
“mental health services ineffective in supporting pupils”,
while, at the same time, mental health issues are on the rise in schools. Confidence in child and adolescent mental health services, or CAMHS, was even lower among head teachers at pupil referral units, at 37%, and at special educational needs schools, at 43%. Sixty-five per cent of schools do not assess the severity of mental health needs among their pupils, yet where such screening tools are available 85% of schools reported it to be effective.
As the Deputy Prime Minister rightly said,
“Schools would never ignore a child with a physical health problem, so the same should be true of mental ill health too”.
He went on to say:
“Early intervention is crucial in tackling mental health problems”.
So early identification and the provision of effective support systems are paramount in dealing with mental health problems. However, two-thirds of local authorities have cut their child and adolescent mental health services, and, unfortunately, the largest cuts have been to early intervention services.
We need to provide alternative solutions which benefit families and young people affected by mental health problems and which take into account the existing responsibilities of teachers. For example, the Well Centre in Streatham, south London, provides drop-in one-to-one counselling, structured therapy, peer group work and digital services. Since CAMHS budgets have been reduced, we must look to investing in alternatives, such as linking up schools with these youth health centres in order to reach out to young people who may not have the confidence to ask for themselves.
As a Government, we have been successful in introducing free childcare for increasing numbers of disadvantaged children, implementing education, health and care plans to enable quality and consistency for all young people with special educational needs and providing for further integration of crucial services that affect the well-being of children from birth throughout their education. However, mental health care for under-25s still makes up only 6% of the overall NHS mental health care budget. We must therefore continue to work towards preventing the suffering of those children with emotional, behavioural and psychological problems.
I believe this can be achieved by creating the conditions that allow for early diagnosis. It can also be achieved by addressing the factors that can contribute to the stigmas surrounding mental health and maintaining high standards of mental health services for every child and family. It is our responsibility to enable every child to receive the best possible start in life. The only way that we can safeguard this right is by ensuring that education and healthcare services are equipped to tackle the underlying causes and contributory factors of mental illness. In doing this, we can help pave the way for improved physical and mental health for our children and, further still, support opportunities for all young people to learn effectively.
We all believe that education and care for young people should provide the best start in life for every child, regardless of their background, their living circumstances or the socioeconomic status of their parents. Over the years, we have seen that early years and childhood experiences can have profound and long-lasting consequences for an individual’s health. We know that the life chances of a child are greatly influenced between the ages of three and five, and that their future chances are often predicated on their development in the first five years of life. If undiagnosed, mental health problems can continue to affect young people throughout their life, affecting their personal development, educational attainment and overall well-being.
During my time as a head teacher, it was often clear to see that children from disadvantaged backgrounds were arriving at school, on their very first day, already a few steps behind their more fortunate peers. This had severe implications for their learning capacity, their ability to interact with classmates and even their literacy and numeracy attainment levels. While we tend to presume that such disadvantage is primarily caused by social and material circumstances such as poverty, family structure and demographics, all too often we neglect the role that mental health plays in child well-being. Yet around one in 10 of the nation’s children are affected by mental health issues, with significantly higher levels evident in certain groups of young people.
Many education providers, parents and children alike find themselves confronted with the challenging realities that are presented by mental health care provision, and teachers are increasingly placed under considerable pressure to take responsibility for such demands. It is vital that education, youth services and healthcare providers have the capacity to work together in identifying mental health problems at the earliest possible point, in order to offer early diagnosis and professional, collaborative support.
Furthermore, early diagnosis and support for affected children and families can significantly reduce costs to society in the long term, as well as empowering those who are affected to help themselves. Targeted interventions and the provision of integrated services at an early age are key strategies that have been proven to help reduce low educational attainment, unemployment, crime, and anti-social behaviour in the long run. The benefits of interventions during the early years of childhood are therefore realised both in the short term and over the entire life course of the child. As such, we should see the provision of mental health care in the foundational years as a valuable investment.
We need to look specifically at the treatment of mental health for young people, and make sure that this treatment is accessible to high-risk groups. We need to ensure that there are flexible, sustainable and workable plans in place for young people affected by emotional illness from birth, and that care continues to be accessible throughout their lives.
Finally, we need to cut right to the core of the issue, and act on the advice of medical professionals who emphasise the influence of perinatal mental health on a child’s upbringing. If mental health problems are identified and treated quickly, efficiently and effectively, many of these serious long-term human and economic costs can ultimately be avoided.
I thank noble Lords her#e for their dedication in debating the importance of mental health care provision, and urge us all to consider further investment and accessibility in services for young people, as a crucial way in which we can prevent emotional disturbances from affecting the life chances of children from all walks of life. It is reassuring to see the progress that we have made in firmly placing mental health care provision on the agenda, and I look forward to seeing the Government, local authorities, trained professionals, and parents continuing to uphold the highest standard of care for young people.
As Dame Sue Bailey, chair of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition said:
“School is a critical environment where young people should be able to flourish across all domains of their lives. The gaps and concerns this report so clearly identifies reinforce the need to provide young people with the help, support and self-empowerment to develop and maintain resilience to stay mentally healthy in order to achieve and develop to their full potential”.
I say, “Hear, hear”.