Government 'stumbling in the dark' with children's mental health response

(Unsplash/Sophie Elvis)

The Government needs 'greater urgency' in supporting children struggling with mental health problems, The Children's Society has said. 

A report from the National Audit Office (NAO) this week revealed that 10% of 5- to 16-year-olds in the UK have a mental health condition but only a quarter of that figure is able to access the appropriate services. 

This is despite the Government allocating £1.4 billion of transformation funding towards the provision of children and young people's mental health services in recent years. 

The NAO report said that while the Government's ambitions were 'laudible', only 'slow progress' had been made in expanding the NHS workforce to provide the necessary services. 

The report cautioned that demand may be higher than originally thought and that a 'coherent and coordinated cross-sector' response would be needed to meet the Government's goal of improving mental health services to young people. 

'The Government has not yet set out or costed what it must do to realise these aspirations in full and there remains limited visibility of activity and spending outside the health sector...the Government cannot demonstrate that it has yet delivered value for money,' the NAO said.

Sam Royston, Director of Policy and Research at The Children's Society, said the number of young people unable to access help for their mental health conditions was 'really alarming'. 

He said that if the Government was serious about providing children with the same level of help for their mental health as their physical health, it should triple spending and ensure that local authorities make the services a priority in their budgets.

Mr Royston also called for additional funding to provide more early help in education and provide all secondary school children with access to a counsellor 'before deep-seated problems emerge'. 

'But this report shows that the Government is stumbling in the dark and struggling to get a grip on the situation,' he said.

'It still cannot reliably say how many children need mental health treatment, children who do get support still often wait for months for treatment and frontline staffing shortages continue.'

He added, 'This additional funding must be combined with renewed ambition and urgency if warm words are to be turned into tangible improvements for our children and young people.'