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Successive Governments have pledged to improve mental health support for children and young people. This briefing covers the structure of Children and young people’s mental health services (CYPMHS), recent Department of Health and Social Care, Department for Education and NHS policy, and evaluations of Government policy.

The Coalition Government 2010-15

The 2010-2015 Coalition Government committed to improving mental health for children and young people as part of its commitment to achieving “parity of esteem” between physical and mental health. The 2011 mental health strategy, No Health without Mental Health, pledged to provide early support for mental health problems, and the 2014 strategy, Closing the Gap: priorities for essential change in mental health, included ambitions to improve access to psychological therapies for children and young people.

The Department of Health and NHS England established a Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Taskforce which reported in March 2015 (Future in Mind) and set out ambitions for improving care over the next five years.

The 2015 Conservative Government

The 2015-2017 Government announced new funding for mental health, including specific investment in eating disorder services for teenagers. Additionally, the 2015 Government committed to implementing the recommendations made in The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health (February 2016), including specific objectives to improve treatment for children and young people by 2020/21.

The Policing and Crime Act 2017 included provisions to end the practice of children and young people being kept in police cells as a “place of safety” whilst awaiting mental health assessment or treatment.

In December 2017 a Green Paper on children and young people’s mental health was published for consultation which set out measures to improve mental health support, in particular through schools and colleges.  The Green Paper set out three key proposals:

  • To incentivise and support all schools and colleges to identify and train a Designated Senior Lead for mental health.
  • To fund new Mental Health Support Teams supervised by NHS children and young people’s mental health staff.
  • To pilot a four-week waiting time for access to specialist NHS children and young people’s mental health services.

The Government’s response to the consultation, published in July 2018, committed to taking forward all proposals in the Green Paper.

2019 onwards

The NHS Long Term Plan (January 2019), restated the Government’s commitment to deliver the recommendations in The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health and set out further measures to improve the provision of, and access to, mental health services for children and young people.

In 2021 the Government published the Covid-19 Mental Health and Wellbeing Recovery Action Plan. The impact of the pandemic on children and young people is also included in the Terms of Reference for the public inquiry into the UK’s preparedness and response to the pandemic.

In 2022, the Government launched a discussion paper and call for evidence to inform a new cross-government, ten-year plan for mental health and wellbeing in England.

Alongside changes to Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), the Government announced the introduction of statutory health education in July 2018. The Department for Education published final statutory RSE and health education guidance in June 2019. The guidance came into force in September 2020 and sets out requirements for health education; this must cover physical health and mental wellbeing.

In May 2021, the Government announced more than £17 million to improve mental health and wellbeing support in schools and colleges, to help them recover from the challenges of the pandemic. In May 2022, a further £7 million for schools and colleges was announced to train a Senior Mental Health Lead. The announcement said up to 8,000 more schools and colleges would be able to apply for a training grant by the end of this financial year.

This briefing applies to England only.

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