Investing in children and young people's mental health: if not now, when?

The parlous state of support for children and young people facing mental health challenges was reinforced at the end of last week by the publication of the Children’s Commissioner for England’s report on ‘The state of Children’s mental health services’ 

In her introduction, Anne Longfield relates hearing from children and young people who describe how getting support is ‘an ordeal’, often finding themselves having to justify why they should be getting help. The report highlights the postcode lottery of support, with the investment in Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services (CPYMHS) ranging from £14 to £191 per child across NHS areas, with an overall average of £92 per child compared to £225 per adult. It is clear that despite recent government initiatives, including the introduction of support in schools, there is still a long way to go. As we identified in our Policy Commission report the answer does not lie solely in investment in improved and equitable access to specialist mental health services but also resourcing  preventative support and early intervention.

I welcome the Commissioner’s call for benchmarks as to the minimum services children should be able to access in every area. This includes specialist mental health services and low level support. The report recognises the invaluable role of the voluntary sector, chiming with the findings from our research scheduled for publication in May 2020. There is a call for greater investment  and accountability, which needs to  cover prevention. Above all, the report highlights the need for a systematic approach to developing mental health support for children and young people, well thought out and transparent so that everyone knows what’s in place. I hope that the voices of children and young people are properly heard and that the Children’s Commissioner’s recommendations are now rapidly adopted as a pressing priority for government. 

Children’s Commissioner (2020) The state of children’s mental health services. Available online [Accessed 5 February 2020]

Viewpoint written by Dr Karen Newbigging, Senior Lecturer in Healthcare Policy and Management, at HSMC, University of Birmingham.