New advisory council on Camhs needs greater powers

The Mental Health Foundation has questioned whether the government’s new advisory council on child and adolescent mental health services will have the powers to enforce improvements.

Children’s secretary Ed Balls and health secretary Alan Johnson launched the National Advisory Council on Children’s Mental Health and Psychological Wellbeing last week. It will be headed by former Mencap chief executive Jo Williams (pictured).

The advisory council was a key demand of a year-long review of child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs), which also reported last week. The new body’s remit will be to ensure that government is held to account for the delivery of the review’s recommendations.

Real powers

Simon Lawton Smith, the foundation’s head of policy, said the board would need real powers if services are to meet the government’s call for dramatic changes within 12 months.

“A national advisory council could help speed things up, but it will only have an impact if it is given some teeth and can hold the government properly to account,” he said. “It is difficult to see how, without particular levers, this will happen.”

The Camhs review, chaired by Gloucestershire Council director of children’s services Jo Davidson, identified “unacceptable” variations in provision between areas. It cited administrative barriers to children’s needs being met holistically and long-standing problems for some “particularly vulnerable” children in accessing support.

It called for initial training for all members of the children’s workforce to cover mental health within two years, children’s trusts to set up local boards to ensure effective commissioning of Camhs services and improved transition planning.

Enforce action

Lawton Smith suggested action could be enforced if the advisory council published regular reports on the progress of government departments and local services. These would explain any failings in implementing the improvements.

Roger Catchpole, principal consultant for children’s mental health charity YoungMinds and a member of the Camhs review team, agreed: “We would be keen to see a progress-reporting system. This was discussed as a possibility along with a number of ways for council to give an indication of progress.”

But Ann Baxter, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ health, care and additional needs committee, said further enforcement mechanisms were not needed.

“The new body will have teeth – there will be an expectation to feed back information,” she said. She added that its high-profile launch, endorsed by two secretaries of state and an audience of directors of children’s services, meant that its recommendations would be taken seriously.

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