Act now to ensure childhood mental health problems don't 'blight a life'

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Helen Clark explains why new mental health legislation for children should be made a priority and how readers can get behind it.


Helen Clark, spokesperson for the Child Mental Health Charter Campaign

Brexit will be settled one way or another, but mental health problems stemming from childhood can blight a life.

I’m asking Nursery World readers to write to their MP as of urgency and ask them to sign an Early Day Motion (EDM) for new mental health legislation for children.

On 8 April, Steve McCabe MP, chair of the All Party Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood, tabled a Motion (EDM 2285) at Westminster for new mental health legislation for children, which asks the Prime Minister to honour her pledge to include a new Mental Health Bill in the 2019 Queen's Speech.

Ask your MP to sign EDM 2285 and make 2019 the year in which a new Mental Health Act prioritises children’s needs.

Please use your voice to speak for children as there is no guarantee that a Mental Health Bill will be included and no guarantee any new legislation will prioritise children. Yet facts like these speak for themselves:

  • there has been a 27 per cent leap in hospital admissions for self-harm by children aged three- to- nine in England in just five years;
  • 1 in 5 young people aged 16-24 now experience a common mental illness such as anxiety or depression at any one time. Three-quarters of children raised in local authority residential homes meet the criteria for a psychiatric diagnosis;
  • research shows that children affected by learning disabilities are six times more likely to experience conduct disorder and four times more likely to have a diagnosable emotional mental health problem;
  • children from low-income families are four times more likely to experience mental health problems than children from higher income families.

This week, the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, cited findings in the NHS Long Term Plan (January 2019) showing that children in some parts of England are making do with only £5 per head to cover their community mental health needs.

The long-term expense of short-changing policies may never be recouped and one-in-ten young people will experience a mental health problem every year. Without early intervention measures, there is likely to be long term detriment to their adult mental health and life chances. If, as Mrs May has claimed, people with mental health problems suffer a 'burning injustice', then children are the greatest casualties of a system that is manifestly unfit for purpose.

A new Mental Heath Act should enshrine the principles of our Children’s Mental Health Charter Campaign, which focuses on children’s needs, protecting children, investing in a properly qualified workforce, ensuring that policy is informed by the best available evidence, promoting collaboration between all agencies concerned with children’s welfare and focusing on parents’ and carers’ needs.

From now until the 2019 Queen’s Speech, ministers will be assailed by vociferous policy interest groups, keen to secure the inclusion of their issue in a potential Bill. The victors are often those who shout the loudest but children need us to speak for them.

Give children the chance of their lives by encouraging your MP to sign EDM 2285 now.

  • Click here for the Early Day Motion
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