Education

10.04.19

Children’s commissioner ‘extremely concerned’ over council spending on mental health services and postcode lottery

A postcode funding lottery and “extremely worrying” real-term reductions are facing the increasing number of children suffering from low-level mental health conditions, a major report from the Children's Commissioner for England has said.

The research reveals the huge variety between how much funding is available to help children through preventative ‘low-level’ mental health services – with 25% of local areas spending at least five times as much than the bottom quarter.

The investigation from the Children’s commissioner found that preventative schemes such as school and online counselling and drop-in centres are now inaccessible.

With one in eight children in England suffering from a mental health disorder, the report points out that nearly 60% of local authorities are seeing a real-term fall in spending.

The report details one case where a girl was only referred to child and adolescent mental health services after she “tried to take her own life by drinking bleach,” despite asking teachers numerous times to be referred.

Whilst total spend on low-level mental health services in England has increased by 22%, the report showed that in areas of reduced spending, reduced spending by local authorities was one of the primary causes.

The commissioner said that given the focus on improving access to children’s mental health services, these reductions were “concerning” and the increase in capacity was not keeping pace with increased demand.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “This report reveals for the first time the postcode lottery facing the increasing number of children suffering from low-level mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

“It is extremely worrying that a third of local areas in England are actually reducing real terms spending on these vital services.

“The children I speak to who are suffering from conditions like anxiety and depression aren’t asking for intensive in-patient therapeutic treatment, they just want to be able to talk to a counsellor about their worries and to be offered advice on how to stop their problems turning into a crisis.”

She said that whilst the NHS Long-Term Plan had made children’s mental health a top priority, it won’t succeed unless children with low-level problems are offered help quickly and early.

Longfield acknowledged that local authorities are under “huge financial pressure” but said “those who are spending barely anything on low-level mental health cannot continue to leave children to struggle alone.”

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