Time to change minds

Today sees the launch of Changing Minds, Community Care’s major
campaign to improve mental health services for children and young

These vulnerable young people have been neglected for too long.
Because of the shortage of services, young people and their
families are left struggling to cope without the necessary
treatment or support services. If they have severe mental illness,
they often end up in either adult psychiatric wards or paediatric
wards. In the community, many young people with mental health
problems are turned off using services because they are unsuitable.
There is a also lack of community-based, user-focused services
which can succeed in engaging young people.

These shortages come at a time when demand is growing as the
prevalence of mental health problems among children and young
people is increasing, as shown by the results of our exclusive
survey of social care professionals. Research tells us that mental
health problems in young people are linked with youth offending,
truancy and teenage pregnancy. The cost of untreated conduct
disorder per child is more than £15,000 a year.

The services that do exist have not received adequate support.
The health service has numerous competing demands and, within it,
children’s mental health services do not get a look in.
Professionals in the field report a lack of co-ordination, severe
staff shortages, money being siphoned into other areas, and
children falling through the gaps.

That is why the Community Care campaign is calling on
the government to convene a task force to draw up a national
strategy for England to cover child and adolescent mental health
services. It needs also to cover preventive services such as those
offered by Sure Start, projects funded through the Children’s Fund
and Connexions. This is where the essential early detection and
intervention must occur. These initiatives must place children’s
mental health at the top of their priority list. The strategy must
also include new services specifically for older adolescents who
need community-based targeted support services.

The government has increased funding for this area but it is not
enough – it is estimated that only about 5 per cent of the total
mental health budget is spent on children and young people. That is
why we are calling on the government to ensure that any new
resources for child and adolescent mental health services are

The other people who suffer when services are inaccessible are
the families of young people with mental health problems. It is
crucial that specific support services are set up for them. To
start with, the government must fund a national information and
advice service.

But our campaign is not only calling on the government to act.
Every professional who works with children and young people must
also act. All health, education and social care agencies must agree
to work together in partnership to ensure that sufficient
high-quality services are made available. They have a duty to
develop these services.

We need you to get involved. Inserted in this issue of
Community Care is a draft letter to your MP. You need to
write your address and the name of your MP above the House of
Commons address and sign it before sending it off. We also want
your signature on our petition, which is inside this magazine. Pass
it to your colleagues, clients and partner agency staff.

This is the time to act. Al Aynsley-Green, the national clinical
director for children who is leading the children’s task force
drawing up the national service framework for children, stated last
month that child and adolescent mental health services were on the
radar screen. It is up to us to ensure this opportunity for change
is taken.

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