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We must show the children we’re listening

Alarm bells have been sounding on growing mental health concerns amongst children and young people for some time and this has been exacerbated by the pandemic. One in six children aged 5-16 has a probable mental health disorder, up from one in nine in 2017. Accessing the right support early can make a huge difference, yet too many children are waiting months for an assessment and over a year for treatment. The current system is not working for children and needs change, with the knock on effects of the failure threatening to overwhelm the children’s social care system. Local authorities are doing all we can to respond to the situation, including by stepping in when children cannot access the support they need, but this comes at a cost.

We must look differently at ways to build emotional resilience, support good wellbeing and treat mental ill health. This was a key message coming from a recent ADCS report on children’s mental health. Adding to a growing body of evidence highlighting a crisis in children’s mental health services, the report shows increased prevalence and demand for mental health services, complexity of needs and an overlap with children’s social care services. The proportion of children’s social care assessments where children’s mental health is a factor has increased from 9.1% in 2017/18 to 13.6% in 2021/22, parental mental-ill health has increased during this period too. The demand seen in the last two years is forecasted to grow exponentially.

Access to mental health support for some of our most vulnerable children, who require NHS inpatient services, continues to be an issue. 79% of respondents stated there were ‘never’ or ‘rarely’ enough NHS Tier 4 inpatient beds in the right places to effectively support children, with the most severe and complex needs. There has been a reduction in these beds at a time when need is increasing with no alternative community-based offer forthcoming. We need a national review of children’s mental health services alongside a commitment from all partners to improve the way we support children with their mental health and wellbeing. Children living in poverty are several times more likely than those from the wealthiest homes to suffer from poor mental health by the age of 11, and so the need for a national strategy to tackle child and family poverty in this country is similarly urgent.

Children and young people tell us mental health is the number one issue for them, we must show them that we are listening.

This column was published in the MJ - We must show the children we’re listening (

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