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Response to children’s mental health report

On Thursday 22 November, NHS Digital published a report into the mental health of children and young people in England. The report shows that one in eight 5-19 year olds had at least one mental disorder when assessed in 2017, highlighting the need to extend and diversify mental health services and support.

According to the report, mental disorders are more common in young people living in lower income households, with parents who have mental health issues, or where there is poorer family functioning. They are also more common in young people who have experienced an adverse life event – some of which can mirror the experiences of young people in care.

The data reflects our experience that young people we support today at St Christopher’s are more likely to have a mental health disorder, and that the nature of that disorder may be more complex than ten years ago. To address this need, we have partnered with mental health charity MAC-UK to pilot therapeutic input models in our services and established a Wraparound therapeutic team on the Isle of Man for young people, foster carers and families. Any mental health support we offer is designed with children and young people at the heart: we take a creative approach, make sure any services are accessible, and spend time building relationships with young people so they are comfortable enough to open up.

The report connects having a mental health disorder with displaying risky behaviour, such as drinking alcohol, smoking or taking drugs. It also highlights that these young people are more likely to be excluded from school, which we know to be the point when they become most at risk of grooming or other exploitation. The government’s commitment to funding mental health in schools will go some way to addressing this, but may not reach those who are already disengaged with education. We would not want any child to fall through the gaps in traditional support services, which our new Trusted Relationships project will tackle.

Another key finding from the report is that one in six 17-19 year olds have a mental health disorder. This is magnified for care leavers, who have told us how challenging it is to live independently at such a young age. This links to the report’s analysis that disorders are more prevalent in young people with low levels of social support, which is a common theme for care leavers as they can feel isolated and alone. We believe if sufficient care leaver support was put in place to help them move to independence, this could have a hugely positive impact on their mental health. Our Staying Close project employs this approach by helping young people to maintain their most important support systems even after they leave care, and we want to share our model across the UK so that even more care leavers can have this safety net.

Over the next five years, through our strategic commitment to improving emotional wellbeing, we want to make sure all young people at St Christopher’s care have the right support for their individual mental health needs so that they can go on to have a brighter future. If you would like to help us achieve this aim, find out how you can support our work.