Over the last few days a snippet of news has emerged and a short debate has taken place in the House of Lords that together indicate that with the right amount of campaigning, circumstances could improve for some vulnerable families in our society and that all of us could also benefit. The news relates to a scheme which has been developed by the catchy titled “The What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care” which is described on its website as “a new initiative to foster evidence-informed practice in England. Commissioned by the Department for Education, the Centre will be established as an independent organisation by 2020” Based on the schemes they are proposing it seems vital that this organisation reaches its independent state, whilst at the same time retains its leverage to get policies and budgets changed in an effective manner. They are working with six councils across two “change projects” until March next year to test out new ways of reducing the numbers of children in care. A sum of £2.4m has been allocated with each council receiving between £400,000 and £600,000. Sadly the nearest Councils involved to Sussex are Southampton and two London Boroughs. It is vital that our local Councils and Politicians along with the rest of us campaign for these plans to succeed and expand to impact Sussex as well as Hampshire and London. The two projects involve social workers being given greater control over how money is spent on supporting families where there is a risk of a child being taken into care and locating social workers in schools to work directly with families and children as well as support teachers through training and consultations. One of the inspiring schemes is in Hillingdon and which will involve a child protection team that will focus on working with 100 young people at risk of sexual exploitation to help them devise their own support plans and chair their own meetings.
The debate that took place in the House of Lords occurred last Wednesday evening and lasted just an hour. The subject was “Mental Health: Children and Young People” and it was instigated by Claire Tyler, a Liberal Democrat. She began by asking the Government “what assessment they have made of the recent concerns expressed by general practitioners that children and young people with mental health problems are unable to access National Health Service treatments; and what steps they will take to address them.” Sadly there was very little meaningful response from the Government to this question and they stated “we know that the current system is not perfect but we are working tirelessly to improve the quality and availability of support for children. This will take time.” It is fascinating that a Minister can claim the Government is working tirelessly on a matter that they have ignored for nearly a decade. However several Conservative Peers responded by making comments that need to be encouraged as they clearly do understand that this problem is genuine and it needs resolving, despite the extra funding that has been provided recently.
Carlyn Chisholm stated “there seems to be an epidemic of mental health problems among young people. It is impossible to read or watch the media without seeing and hearing of mental health issues among this group. There are many reasons for the increase, including poverty, neglect, stress, bullying, poor physical health, social media and trauma” while Howard Leigh pointed out “many local health bodies are diverting some of the new funding they have received for children’s mental health to other priorities and that, while some CCGs have made big increases in their spending, many others are using some of the new money to backfill cuts or to spend on other priorities” and finally Laura Wyld stated “I welcome the additional funding—but I am still extremely worried when consultant psychiatrists and others in the system to whom I have spoken say that the extra investment is not getting to the front line for specialist services.…I urge the Government to keep up the momentum on helping families…. I am delighted to see that the Government have moved to a birth-to-25 strategy, but how will this be led across government departments in practice? When I talk to people in Whitehall they emphasise how complicated this is, with many root causes and considerations. Because that is true, it is the very reason that cross-government working needs to be gripped” Clearly these Tory Peers who are in effect back benchers may not carry huge influence but Laura was Head of the No 10 Appointments Unit so she knows how to communicate with Downing Street. If she could raise a flag for cross-government working to take place, we could all benefit in due course!