In the build-up to a general election, there is always incredible momentum to gain as much influence as possible with a range of political parties to strengthen existing campaign asks, and see them set out in party manifestos with a commitment to then implement by whoever is elected. It’s also important to work with parties who hold future seats as part of the opposition, in order to hold any elected Government to account. 

Working closely with Citizens UK our joint campaign asks for access to Government-funded counselling provision across all state-funded schools and colleges, including primaries, may feel ambitious but there is already a commitment from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats for this, with both parties talking of ‘trained mental health counsellors’ available in schools. Added to this, both parties are also exploring where access to counselling may fit in with the already established Mental Health Support Teams (MHSTs), which currently have a reach of 35% of schools and colleges across England. Although this model would potentially provide a smooth transition or step up to counselling for those children and young people with more complex issues, we are concerned that the scale and reach of this particular model would take years to implement.  

This provides us with a good opportunity to work with the Conservative Party to further strengthen their flagship MHST programme and cost-out-funded counselling as part of this provision. 

Our first manifesto planning meeting took place with the Green Party where, alongside Citizens UK, we provided information on costings, a model for delivery and plans around diversifying the workforce, a point they were particularly interested in learning more about.  

The Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition (CYPMHC), of which we are members, published their ‘Manifesto for Babies, Children and Young People’s Mental Health’ (November 2023) which includes a number of campaign asks including costings from Place2Be for counselling in primary and secondary schools across England at a cost of £530 million per annum, a figure similar to the one we have worked on with Citizens UK; as well as data from BACP linked to workforce capacity gathered from our on-going members survey led by our research team. The workforce capacity data, although quoted within a section on counselling within Early Help Community Hubs, is applicable to the full range of children and young people specialist counselling posts, whatever the setting. We welcome the call for a commitment of 1.7 billon per annum for a comprehensive 0-25 pathway alongside embedding whole education approaches in all educational settings, which is central to the CYPMHC asks. 

Our survey shows that around a third of our members, approximately 19,000 counsellors, have undertaken specific training for working therapeutically with children and young people aged nine to 18. Of those trained specifically to work with young people, over half (55.5%) have indicated that they would like more paid client work and, on average, have the capacity to take on an extra five clients per week. Extrapolating these figures we suggest that BACP members are trained and available to work with over 51,000 additional young people per week. This goes some way to help fill any existing gaps in the availability of counselling to children and young people. 

The next few months will involve briefing parties, meeting with officials and strengthening our position on how funded school and college counselling should be rolled out across England, based very much on our learning from across Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Our key messages continue to be around an appropriately paid and qualified counselling and psychotherapy workforce, and the capacity within our current membership who specialise in working with children and young people, to take on these additionally funded roles. We will also continue to campaign around funding early-help hubs as part of our ongoing work. 

Early Help Hubs, following the YIACS Model (Youth, Information, Advice, Counselling Services) are often based within third-sector settings where a range of youth work and counselling sessions are all offered under one roof (to young people up to the age of 25). Having been part of this ongoing campaign work over the last couple of years, we were pleased to inform members in September that funding via the Department of Health had been identified to pilot approximately 10 hubs in England for a period of one year. Although time-limited and not on a huge scale, University College London will be carrying out an impact evaluation to capture a full range of outcomes, with young people involved in the process of what is important to them to measure. We were happy to see goal-based outcomes included as a measurement tool which they thought had some meaning. 

Having been at BACP for five years now, it feels more than just a faint possibility to have a strong commitment to Government-funded access to counselling provision in schools, colleges and early-help community hubs in England. We will continue to work hard to position the counselling and psychotherapy workforce into well-paid jobs with good working conditions as part of this process. 

Please visit the website for more information about the CYPMHC manifesto.