Local Leadership and Accountability for Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Services

Children's mental health has become an even more pressing concern in the wake of COVID and the devastating news stories that we continue to hear about every day. As we continue to navigate these challenging times, strong local leadership needs to continue to play a central role in ensuring that children and young people receive the necessary support and services.  

One of the central pillars of the Children Act 2004, and all of my work, is in building partnerships and working together to improve outcomes for children.  So, in 2018, I had the privilege of working with ten local authorities to understand how they led local services and partnerships to improve mental health.  Using the insight from this work, I authored a comprehensive guide for the Local Government Association (LGA) titled "Local Leadership and Accountability for Children and Young People's Mental Health Services," offering valuable insights into the role of local authorities in promoting mental well-being among the younger population.

Children's mental health is vital for their ability to learn, build relationships, and overcome the challenges of growing up. Addressing mental health concerns at an early age can prevent long-term issues and contribute to a healthier, more resilient society. The Institute of Health Equity's report, Fair Society, Healthy Lives (Marmot Review) into Health Inequalities, advocated giving all children the best start in life as one of the six key policy objectives needed to reduce inequalities.  The LGA publication highlights the importance of recognising mental health as a priority within local communities.

The last few years have brought about challenges affecting every aspect of our lives, but especially the mental health of children and young people. The disruptions to regular routines, school closures, and widespread uncertainty have contributed to heightened stress and anxiety levels. Four years on from the pandemic, as we continue to grapple with these challenges, the principles outlined in the publication become even more critical in supporting children's mental well-being.

The LGA's publication remains as relevant today as it was in 2018 for local leaders as they navigate the complexities of addressing children's mental health. It promotes the need for adaptive strategies and emphasises the significance of local leadership in driving effective mental health services for children and young people. Local authorities are uniquely positioned to understand the specific needs of their communities and tailor services accordingly; however, financial constraints mean that this more proactive and preventative work becomes ever more difficult to deliver. Through collaboration with schools, healthcare providers, and community organisations, with the right resources, they can create a comprehensive support network for children facing mental health challenges.

Key strategies outlined by the councils that I worked with:

  • Collaboration and Integration: The transformation of children and young people’s mental health is led by local areas. This means professionals from across the NHS, universal services, public health, children’s care, education and youth justice voluntary and community sector working together with children, young people and their families to design and provide the best possible mental health services.  
  • Early Intervention: Timely identification and intervention are crucial in mitigating the impact of mental health issues. Councils advocate for early intervention strategies, ensuring children receive the support they need before problems escalate.
  • Prevention Programs: Local leadership is encouraged to invest in prevention programs that address the root causes of mental health challenges, fostering resilience and promoting positive mental well-being from an early age. Tackling the causes of the causes is something that the Marmot Review advocated.
  • Community Engagement: Engaging with the community is a key aspect of effective local leadership. My work continues to emphasise the importance of working with children, young people, and their families to ensure that services are relevant and responsive to their needs.

As well as providing insight into how the ten local areas worked collaboratively to support children’s mental health, this work I also compiled a Think-List from the experience of, and reflections from, each of the case study areas.

Children's mental health is a shared responsibility that requires collaboration, commitment, and effective leadership at the local level. By implementing the strategies highlighted in the publication, communities can create a nurturing environment that promotes the mental well-being of their youngest members, setting the foundation for a healthier and more resilient future.

Su Turner, Chief Executive, Shaping Governance

Posted in Shaping Governance.