Bishop of St Albans asks Government about provision of mental health care services for children and young people

On 30th June 2015 the House of Lords debated a motion from Baroness Tyler of Enfield “to ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to respond to the recommendations of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Task Force Report Future in Mind.” The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, spoke in the debate.

Bishop St Albans June 2015The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, for introducing this debate, for the excellent work of the task group and for the commitment that Her Majesty’s Government have already made to this area.

I also pay tribute to the many excellent charities that are working in this area. Just round the corner from where I live in St Albans is a small charity. I do not suppose that any of your Lordships will have heard of it. It is called Youth Talk and it was set up some years ago, in 1997, by a local GP after she realised that there was a need for a safe place where young people could come for counselling and support. In the intervening years, more than 2,000 young people have used the service. Every year around 190 young people are seen and up to 50 sessions are offered each week. The service is free at the point of access to all 14 to 25 year-olds. It is one of the many unsung charities in our nation that are offering support in this extremely important area. Alongside the crucial statutory work, we need to think about encouraging the voluntary sector.

However, there is still a great deal to be done. As the former Minister Norman Lamb admitted about a year ago, for children and mental health services the prevalence data were out of date and the commissioning services were fragmented. It is good that some of these deficiencies are now being addressed. Therefore, I am supportive of the proposal in the Future in Mindreport that good research in the form of a prevalence survey should be conducted by the Department of Health every five years. That would give us a wide range of data, including factors such as ethnicity and socioeconomic background, with a special emphasis on vulnerable groups.

I want to comment on two other areas. First, I strongly support the recommendation that,

“designated professionals”,


“liaise with agencies and ensure that services are targeted and delivered in an integrated way for children and young people from vulnerable backgrounds”.

We are all aware of the problem of statutory and voluntary agencies working in silos, resulting in young people falling through the net. The troubled families programme has shown us the value of having a champion —a co-ordinator whose role is to focus on getting change and who can draw together all the different parties to ensure that the help can be delivered effectively and consistently. Without such “designated professionals” who are given the appropriate power and resources, it is unlikely that we are going to solve the problems that have dogged this area for such a long time.

I also want to commend to your Lordships’ House a campaign launched last Friday by the Children’s Society called Seriously Awkward. The campaign is based on empirical research of more than 1,000 teenagers of 16 and 17 years of age, and it relates directly to many of the points made in the Future in Mind report. However, it argues cogently that there are a number of areas that need urgent attention. In particular, the campaign points out that the legislation relating to 16 and 17 year-olds is highly inconsistent and is causing problems regarding where they fit and who is responsible for them. We need some clarity in this area. The campaign argues that the Government should establish a right for 16 and 17 year-olds to be entitled to support from CAMHS when they need it. This support must be available as early as possible, and long before mental health needs become acute. It argues that the Department of Health should, as it is in the process of recommissioning a new prevalence study, include 16 and 17 year-olds in that study, and there seems to be some lack of clarity about that.

Tailored information should be produced by CAMHS providers about mental health symptoms and conditions for adolescents to support them in understanding their experiences. Information also needs to be available to their families, to help them both in parenting adolescents appropriately and meeting their emotional needs. In addition, services working with vulnerable adolescents should consider their mental health needs within the family context and offer appropriate support to the young person and their family, working together.

Local authorities and health and well-being boards should evaluate the levels of mental health support available to vulnerable groups of young people. The commissioning of effective mental health services needs to be underpinned by robust and reliable data on the use of mental health services, particularly by vulnerable groups.

Finally, at present, support for victims of child sexual abuse is often dependent upon children displaying symptoms of diagnosable conditions. Child victims should, as a matter of course, receive support to help them overcome the trauma of abuse. Therefore, what are the Government doing to ensure that older adolescents have access to mental health support? Will the Government ensure that 16 and 17 year-olds are included in the upcoming mental health prevalence study of children and young people’s mental health? Will the Government ensure that some of the additional funding is ring-fenced to ensure that victims of child sex abuse have access to mental health support?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Prior of Brampton) (Con):[extract]

…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, both mentioned the importance of local charities and voluntary groups in this area. We will not in any way ignore the vital role that they play….

…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans laid particular stress on the importance of co-ordinated care.

The Care Quality Commission report, From the Pond into the Sea, highlights the complexity and cliff edge that many children experience as they transition from children’s to adult services. We should be particularly focused on this area…


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