Children's mental health services urgently need a complete overhaul if young people are to receive better support and care, council leaders have warned.
The Local Government Association, which represents over 370 councils across England and Wales, believes that only full reform of the mental health system can now ensure improvement. With councils committed to vital change and already playing their part, the LGA is calling on government to provide adequate funding and resources to ensure early diagnosis for children.
Currently, long NHS waiting times mean councils are having to use stretched budgets to pay for services to plug the gap to get young people the urgent treatment they require. There is an urgent need to support community services to help children and young people experiencing mental health issues to receive the help they need as early as possible to stop their condition from deteriorating.
Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said:
"Looking after young people is the most important thing councils do and it is all of our duty to make sure that children, along with their mums and dads have access to the services they need. It is totally unacceptable that vulnerable young people who need help can end up falling through gaps in the system being widened because of funding pressures which are fuelling long NHS wait times.
"We are pleased that the Government and the NHS has recognised local government's call that more must be done to tackle the challenges faced each day by children, young people and their mums and dads who need to access mental health support by introducing a Taskforce to try and join up services. We are keen to work together on the details of how this can be achieved.
"Local authorities still have serious concerns about mental health funding for children and want a complete overhaul of the fragmented and complex system that they currently face each day when trying to access services delivered by the NHS and other partners. Councils have worked hard to protect the many services they provide for vulnerable children but in the face of 40 per cent cuts to local government, this has becoming increasingly challenging. Local authorities need the resourcing and flexibility to be able to invest in prevention and universal services in order to tackle mental health problems.
"Councils are committed to change and are already playing their part, but there are vital changes to the system that need to be made. It is absolutely crucial that the whole system is properly funded, resourced and joined up to ensure young people receive the very best services available.
As many as one in ten young people aged between five and 16 suffer with a diagnosable mental health condition and this is an issue that is rising each year across the country. At the moment, the current complex system can mean that young people and their families are struggling to deal with a number of practitioners and agencies to try and access help for mental health services and understand how services work together, making it more complicated to get help. Young people transferring to adult services are also at risk of being left without help because of inconsistencies in service eligibility related to age or thresholds for services.
The LGA is calling for better integration of children and adults mental health services so that practitioners and commissioners are working more closely together and young people and their families do not have to cope with a fragmented system, especially when they are going through a time that could be extremely challenging and confusing. The current system also does not link up issues that impact on children's mental health as a result of their parents' mental health issues which could be related to domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse.