In 2017 the government announced a new initiative to support children’s mental health; Mental Health Support Teams (MHSTs) are a joint venture of NHS England and the Department for Education and the plan was that each MHST would link to several schools via a designated senior member of staff in each school. They were not set up to be a substitute for other support services (CAMHS, school counsellors etc) but to deliver early interventions – often using low intensity Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (LI-CBT), counselling sessions, themed group work or information workshops – backed up with appropriate signposting and referrals.
The MHST brief included support for parents, teachers and TAs/LSAs with information, advice and guidance about how best to help children and young people who were experiencing new or emerging emotional or mental health issues. It was planned that the learning would be delivered through inset training, workshops and consultation.
This was a timely initiative, given that approximately one in eight (12.8%) children, aged 5-19, at that time had a diagnosable mental health problem and research tells us that half of all mental health problems emerge before the age of fourteen. However, since the launch of the programme we have had Covid and lockdowns, with data now being published indicating that mental health problems for children are greater and more widespread than previously – so the 12.8% is probably now more like 14%.
My reason for bringing this up is that NHS England has stated that 503 MHSTs will be operational by 2024. However, an analysis just published this week by the House of Commons Library says this number would cover just 34% of England’s schools and colleges, which teach 45% of students. Therese Coffey – the new Health Secretary – has yet to make any comment on children’s mental health but it seems that without further intervention and support, we are likely to again be left with a postcode lottery for children and young people with mental health issues.
AC Education has been monitoring the course of MHSTs and the training of EMHPs (Education Mental Health Practitioners) since the programme launched. Through our range of schools training programmes we have identified ongoing areas of need and gaps in training currently available – and will be publishing courses and resources shortly.
If you are interested, don’t watch this space but get in touch with us for more information.
Martha and Rachel