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Successive Governments have pledged to improve mental health support for children and young people. This briefing covers recent Department of Health and Social Care, Department for Education and NHS policy.

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 2015-2017 Government announced new funding for mental health, including specific investment in perinatal services and 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, which will be 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, with certain areas trialling the three key proposals in 2019.

The NHS Long Term Plan published in 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.

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. This will come into force in September 2020, with schools able to implement the changes from September 2019 if they wish.  The guidance sets out requirements for health education; this must cover physical health and mental wellbeing.

Information on Child and adolescent mental health during COVID-19 (July 2020) has been published by the Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology.

This briefing applies to England only. 

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