Psychological wellbeing services for children must be fundamentally rethought and reconfigured if we are to provide help for all those who need it.
That is the conclusion of a new report published by the British Psychological Society (BPS).
What Good Could Look Like in Integrated Psychological Services for Children, Young People and their Families says the demand for these services far outstrips capacity. Current services are overstretched and fragmented, which leads to complex referral systems, long waiting times and young people falling through the net.
There are also great inequalities that result in the most vulnerable people being more disadvantaged.
In place of these failing current arrangements, What Good Could Look Like calls for action to reduce demand by keeping children and young people healthy and tackling the risk factors that lead to mental health conditions.
Julia Faulconbridge, the child lead for the BPS Division of Clinical Psychology and one of the authors of the report, said:
"In recent days Jeremy Hunt has described the mental health services for children and young people as 'the biggest single area of weakness in NHS provision' and the latest figures from NHS England show a significant increase in the numbers of young people self-harming.
"Whilst we must have high quality available for the children and young people who are experiencing significant distress, we must also look to what can be done to reduce the numbers in need of such help.
"We are advocating for a whole system approach that considers the ways in which our society can support families and promote the healthy psychological development of our children and young people and intervene early when difficulties start to arise"
What Good Could Look Like says reducing demand can best be achieved by: addressing poverty and social inequality; health promotion, for instance in schools and maternity settings; and early intervention with families when children are experiencing problems.
It contains a set of detailed recommendations for action, including:
The Report also advocates the use of community psychology. This approach encourages whole communities to shape their own environments to be psychologically safe by building resilience and promoting healthy lifestyles for children and young people.
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