My practice: Panos Vostanis

We need to consider the relevance for all agencies of interagency training in child mental health, says Panos Vostanis

Several national policies and workforce plans agree that child mental health is relevant to all agencies working with children and young people, and that some level of training is important in supporting staff across all sectors to enhance skills and maximise capacity.

Some core topics are relevant to all agencies, such as child development or engaging children and young people. Others will depend more on the wider agency framework and perspective, such as emotional literacy for schools, emotional well-being or welfare for social care and youth services, or predominant consideration of mental health problems for health practitioners. Consequently, four levels of mental health training could be suitable for non-specialist staff working with children and young people.

First, the incorporation of key principles of child mental health and well-being in training, such as NVQ and induction courses on mental health awareness, reduction of stigma and promotion of children’s mental health within the remit of each agency.

These principles could be elaborated at a second interagency level through brief foundation courses, which also introduce the main types of mental health difficulties, service pathways and agency roles within a comprehensive children’s service. A strategic objective would be for all staff to go through such a foundation course early in their new job. They could then develop a broad understanding of where they fit in the overall service framework and what they can realistically achieve to help children.

Some practitioners will then seek additional knowledge. A good topic for an interagency study day would be the recognition and management of self-harm, involving professionals from different settings. Introduction to therapeutic approaches would probably require a lengthier input.

Essential in both examples is the adaptation of each topic to agency needs (practice-focused rather than theory or policy-driven) and the application of therapeutic skills to professional roles, such as the use of behavioural or cognitive techniques, while being aware that this should be distinct from specialist intervention.

Agencies may identify key individuals for postgraduate training in child mental health or therapeutic models, or this may be a personal career choice to develop a joint role with mental health services. Alternatives are attendance at child mental health modules or mental health input to fit in with postgraduate programmes.

Over the years, we have experimented and built on these principles in our interagency training in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. Its delivery is not easy. It has to consider different perspectives and training needs, ensure consistency in meeting service and learning objectives and adequate planning for the next generation of children’s services workforce. But it is a clear way forward.

Panos Vostanis is professor of child psychiatry, University of Leicester


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