When I think of all the children, young people and families I’ve worked with over the years I’m reminded of the importance of third sector, community-based organisations as providers of accessible, life-changing support. More often than not, the most effective support came from organisations that really understand how difficult it can be for young people to reach out to find the help they need, and how important it is for services to be responsive at times of great distress.

So, I am supportive of the Fund the Hubs campaign, launched by Youth Access in partnership with YoungMinds, Mind, The Children’s Society and the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, calling on the Government to fund early support hubs in England. And when we talk of funding, we mean paid work for the profession.

Early support hubs are typically places where children, young people and families can access a range of support on offer from group work, youth participation projects, LGBTQ+ groups, alongside one-to-one support, including counselling. The list of opportunities on offer are endless.

Access to counselling, as part of a range of services available under one roof in all areas of the country, will contribute enormously to the wellbeing and mental health of all. A postcode lottery is a gamble on the health and wellbeing of England’s children and young people that we shouldn’t risk.

I’m excited and inspired by a vision of early support community hubs that breaks a cycle I’ve seen so often, of a school looking to the NHS via a GP for help for a young person, only for the GP to push back to school, and for this to loop round repeatedly without any additional support being found.

Some GPs may mention a local third sector provider, such as the local Youth Information Advice and Counselling Services (YIACS) in Youth Access’ membership. Some may even be able to refer directly to a local provider, depending on funding arrangements. In the county I live in, GPs can do just that and can refer to the counselling provision offered by charity Service Six, but only in one small geographical area funded by the local council.

I’ve routinely signposted or referred young people and families onto third sector youth provision, where counselling, delivered by appropriately trained professionals, is one of the range of fantastic services on offer.

In my current role at BACP, I was deeply affected by one young woman, Eleanor, who told me about her contact with Liverpool Young Persons’ Advisory Service (YPAS), a BACP accredited counselling service and member of Youth Access. She described with passion and openness how the range and choice of support on offer enabled her to explore her creative side and discover new talents, as part of a holistic approach to her anxiety, depression and complex PTSD that had brought her into the service.

The funding landscape for counselling remains such a mixed bag in England, and what’s available one year might not be the next. It’s different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where devolved governments directly fund school and community counselling provision to school-aged children from 10 to 18.

Many schools in England do have access to some form of additional mental health support. Some have in-house counselling, while others may have a clear referral pathway to community counselling provision. This is patchy and, of course, not all children and young people access mainstream education. A study by the IPPR (2020) found that schools in more affluent areas (and within the independent sector) were more likely to fund in-house counselling provision, demonstrating an unequal divide in such critical, early help support.

Despite the Government’s flagship Mental Health Support Team programme, by 2023, an estimated 70% of children and young people still won’t benefit from the early help offered by psychological wellbeing practitioners. It really isn’t good enough and we need to look wider than just support available in schools and colleges.

The beauty of early support hubs is that they really deliver. Open to all, inclusive, with a no wrong door approach, there’s an added bonus that they are accessible to young people up to the age of 25, with no cut off point at 18, which is a critical flaw in many current funding streams across the UK.

So, please support this campaign, write to your MP, put pressure on the Government to fund community-based early support hubs. By adding our voices to this call we can improve access for all those children, young people and young adults who don’t currently benefit from provision in the heart of the communities in which they live.