Reduced spending on low-level but vital mental health treatment for children is ‘counter-productive and damaging’, BACP has said in response to a report by the Children’s Commissioner.
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, has today published a report that reveals over a third of local areas in England have reduced real terms spending on low-level children’s mental health services.
It shows there are wide variations between areas in how much funding is available: the top 25% of local areas spent at least £1.1 million or more, while the bottom 25% spent £180,000 or less.
The report says low-level mental health services are preventative and early-intervention services for treating problems like anxiety and depression or eating disorders, such as support provided by counsellors.
The Children’s Commissioner’s report adds that providing a school-counsellor is a cost-effective option.
But it also says there are “unanswered questions about who funds school-counselling” and that there is no timeline for a plan to roll-out a school-based system to a quarter of areas in England by 2023.
BACP believes a paid counsellor should be available in every school.
Jo Holmes, BACP’s Children, Young People and Families lead, said:
“This report paints a worrying picture of the disparity in support offered to some of our most vulnerable young people. It’s something our members are witnessing every day, whether they work in schools, the NHS or third-sector organisations. We’re pleased the Children’s Commissioner is drawing attention to this issue.
“Early-interventions such as counselling can help prevent children developing more serious problems. Squeezing these vital services with reduced funding is counter-productive and damaging to a generation of young people. There is a ‘missing middle’ of children who are not referred to NHS services – but still need mental health support. They are being supported by school counsellors, which is why ensuring adequate funding for school-based counselling is so important.
“School-based counselling can have a transformative impact on children and their families’ futures. A school counsellor can help a young person look at a problem and manage their emotions and feelings. It can be the most appropriate service to help a child with low-level psychological distress. It’s easy to access, does not stigmatise, and the counsellor is a familiar face within the school."
A 2017 survey estimated that 61% of schools in England offered counselling, with 84% of secondary schools providing access.
In September last year, the Scottish Government announced it will invest £80 million over the next four years in providing counsellors in education, including £60 million to fund counsellors in all secondary schools.
Wales has statutory provision for counselling for all secondary school-age children either within their school or by a community provider.
Jo added: “The worrying postcode lottery in England is one thing, but the country is also lagging behind its neighbours of Scotland and Wales in providing mental health support for our most vulnerable young people. This is not good enough and something the Government must address. We have to think of the long-term impact. Our children will thank us for it in years to come.”