How did we do… 2019 policy campaign

Ella Rhodes reports on progress with the 'children and young people' priority for the British Psychological Society.

Last year saw members of the British Psychological Society Senate vote for a Society policy priority area for the first time. The Senate, made up of chairs of Society member networks, chose the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people as the policy campaign area for 2019.

With guidance from a member-led expert reference group and steering group the BPS policy team has published several briefing papers including one encouraging Ofsted to consider mental health and wellbeing in its inspection regime; another on new mental health support teams to be embedded within schools; and the latest considered mental health in further and higher education.

Chair of the Division of Clinical Psychology’s Faculty for Children, Young People, and Families, Dr Katie Hunt, has been involved with this year’s campaign from the very start. ‘Children and young people are a third of the population. We know that a large proportion of mental health difficulties that adults experience have their roots in childhood, we know that the influences on children and young people’s mental health are enormous and very broad, and we know that if we can have some influence on children and young people developing as psychologically healthily as they can then we’re going to have an influence on the mental health and wellbeing of adults down the line.’

Hunt was involved with the senate campaign’s steering group and expert reference group helping to shape the focus of various elements of the campaign. ‘It was positive to be able to make sure that the right spread of expertise was represented in that expert reference group. People can become focused on adolescent mental health but actually we need to be thinking about the 0-5s, younger kids, and children with learning disabilities and neurodevelopmental difficulties.’

The last meeting for the expert reference group in December involved a discussion on children aged from birth to five years old which will feed into next year’s policy priority area as voted for by the Senate – from poverty to flourishing. ‘The under 5s are just completely off the radar and they are so important. So much happens all the way through pregnancy in early pre-natal development through to the age of five and there are so many influences on children and young people’s mental health at that stage. The 0-5s work is going to springboard into the 2020 poverty campaign as one of the first areas which is really, really positive. We’ve got far too many children and young people living in abject poverty.’

This year’s campaign was led by BPS Policy Advisor Nigel Atter, who also took part in Evidence Week in parliament, speaking to parliamentarians on adverse childhood experiences. Atter has helped organise and taken part in All Party Parliamentary Group meetings on various aspects of children and young people’s mental health. The policy team also organised panel discussions, including MPs, a head teacher and psychologists, at the Labour and Conservative party conferences on the topic of mental health in schools.

‘One of the really exciting things about this year’s policy campaign was being able to have conversations with parliamentarians and try to influence their thinking’, Atter said. ‘At Evidence Week we spoke to more than 30 parliamentarians about adverse childhood experiences in a little over two hours. This work has meant that the Society has been invited to events, such as the House of Lords Roundtable on Character Education, where we made the case for a more holistic approach taking into account the psychosocial context of a child’s environment. Over the year we’ve worked with the Department for Health and the Department of Education Ofsted, Ofqual, Health Education England, NHS England and plan to continue working with them.’ 

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