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Access to mental health services

We have made progress over recent years to acknowledge and understand better the importance of good mental health for children and young people, yet there is much more to do before we achieve real parity of esteem. Covid-19 has been with us for over a year now and during that time, much of our focus has been on the physical impact of the virus, yet I have been encouraged by the development of a strong narrative on the importance of positive mental health, which has been a key theme throughout these challenging times.

It’s not surprising that the experiences of the pandemic have impacted the mental health of children and young people differently; while some have thrived spending more time at home outside of confines of the classroom, others have struggled with a lack of routine, social interaction and missed opportunities. Experiences have also been defined by circumstance; inequalities experienced prior to the pandemic have, in many cases, been further embedded within our communities. Previous research has also told us that those living in the most deprived areas in England are already 10 times more likely to be on a child protection plan or come into care than their wealthier counterparts.

As we plan for recovery and renewal, there is much focus and collaboration across the system to ensure mental health and wellbeing support is available to children who have been adversely impacted.

Accessing mental health services for children in care has long been an issue, especially when children are placed out of area. We know that the issues identified for children in care requiring support are the same reasons why services won’t engage; we can’t expect a child to be stable without putting in place the right support to help them achieve that. The NHS Long Term Plan identifies children in care as a vulnerable group and while the last 12 months have been dominated by Covid, I’m hopeful that with this recognition will come a new discussion about how we can prioritise the needs of children for whom we are corporate parents.

There are areas across the country paving the way and tackling these challenges head on, with colleagues coming together collaboratively across children’s services and health partnerships to recognise the barriers to access and build new approaches that better meet need. Setting out the commitment of leaders across an area to children in care, as corporate parents, is as strong message to deliver. There are also efforts underway to smooth the process of assessment and access for children in care who are placed outside of their local area, with supporting tariffs to reduce variation in the offer, facilitate multi-disciplinary working and most importantly, avoid delay for children and young people. Where local authorities and health partners are getting this right at the local and regional level, it’s important that we share this learning and encourage more areas to have these conversations. These are our children and we need to work together with shared aims and ambitions to make sure no one is left behind.

This article first appeared in CYP Now magazine

Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS President 2021/22 and Strategic Director for People, Salford City Council.

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