Call to close the gap in children's mental health support

New report and event from the Anna Freud Centre to share good practice from the North West.

The Anna Freud Centre has published a report on the significant challenges faced nationally to close the gap in children and young people’s mental health support. The report spotlights six areas of children's lives in which more collective action is needed, but where some pioneering advances are being made.

According to NHS figures on the mental health of children and young people in England, before the pandemic, around one in eight children and young people experienced mental health difficulties severe enough to warrant specialist support, but only a quarter of those children and young people received it.1 The number of children and young people with a probable mental disorder has now risen to one in six.2 Social inequalities and discrimination exacerbate mental health challenges, and undermine children, young people and families’ abilities to access the help they need. The new report, ‘Closing the gap in child and youth mental health support: insights from North West England’ concludes by appealing for collective effort and investment that build on three guiding principles: 

1. A wider range of people need to ‘hold in mind’ children and young people’s mental wellbeing, including professionals but also family members and the wider community; 

2. Cross-sector working is crucial to ensuring children and young people don’t fall through gaps in support; 

3. The voices of children, young people and families should be at the heart of decisions about the support provided to them, especially those who are socially excluded. 

The Anna Freud Centre will be hosting a free event on Wednesday 22 September involving colleagues from all sectors and spread across the North West, to reach out within the region and to policy makers and others nationally. Bringing together those working across education, social care, early years, trauma, research, and youth and parent participation, the event will explore existing innovations and build further on ways of addressing these gaps.  

Professor Jessica Deighton, Director of Applied Research and Evaluation at the Anna Freud Centre, said: “We need to actively address the significant gaps in our support for children and young people, as these gaps directly impact a huge number of lives. This will require a coordinated effort across the mental health workforce, and a recognition that this workforce is broader than mental health professionals – indeed, it includes all of us who are in close contact with children and young people.

"In our collaborations in North West England, there is a wealth of innovation and good practice. We see colleagues across the region making in-roads in tackling the often enormous challenges faced, and we feel privileged to be learning from them and working alongside them. By sharing this learning with services across the region and in other parts of the country, we have a real opportunity for cross-sector working and to close the gap between the mental health needs of children and the help available to them. The three guiding principles set out today should sit at the heart of our efforts to effect change.”

Simone Spray, Chief Executive of 42nd Street – an organisation included in the report – said: “If we are to fully close the gaps in children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing support, we need to more actively listen to what children, young people, parents and carers say works for them and to value them as experts by experience. This is also true for practitioners across all sectors – their voices need to be central to how we develop and deliver both services and the future workforce. The event will showcase examples of where this is already happening in the North West.”

The report and event follow a period of cross-sector discussions, including round tables, with colleagues and communities in North West England. Six areas of children’s lives have been identified in which there is insight into the challenges facing professionals and families, the gaps in support, and where there is innovation and rapid learning. These are: 

  • The gap between aspiration and capacity in delivering mentally healthy schools and further education colleges 
  • The gap in services for families who have experienced trauma 
  • The gap in support for fathers in the perinatal period 
  • The gap in effective support for young people in complex contexts or with multiple difficulties 
  • The gap in meaningful participation 
  • The gap between the research and the help that’s offered 

Within each, the report sets out evidence of the challenges faced, as well as highlighting examples of good practice within the North West. Organisations that feature in the report include some which have featured in the pages of The Psychologist, including Greater Manchester Resilience Hub.

A spokesperson for The Anna Freud Centre said: "The Northern Hub, based in Manchester, was established in 2017 as part of a long term commitment to collaboration and investment in the region. This week’s activities indicate a significant stepping up of this work by capturing and helping to spread the good practice seen in North West England."

1NHS Digital. Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017 (2018). 

2 NHS Digital. Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2020: Wave 1 follow up to the 2017 survey. (2020). 

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