Mental Health Leads championing mental health provision in schools

With the increasing focus on mental health and wellbeing in schools following on from and exacerbated by the pandemic, there are the beginnings of a strategic approach and the start of funding to support it.

The initial stages saw the launch of a ‘recovery curriculum’ to get children back into schools but this is only the tip of the iceberg and the need for an informed, strategic and cohesive framework has never been more evident.

The Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson has stated during the recovery phase that

“Getting back into the classroom was a vital step in this process but success in school and college goes beyond an excellent education – as parents we want our children to feel settled, calm and happy while they learn.”

This has to be the most significant focus for schools and provision for children.

Schools and staff need access to high-quality training, the resources, and the real potential to offer children and families a comprehensive level of provision that targets early intervention and offers a whole school and community-wide approach.

Schools need to have the materials and confidence in being able to deliver specific targeted mental health programmes that enhance the provision for children at an in-school level, and then be able to refer on, where needed, to services that have the capacity to deepen the level of intervention, so that wrap around care works with the school at the centre, as the hub within the community, but as part of a much wider strategic and accessible service.

The vision for this all began in 2017 with the launch of the Green paper: Transforming children and adolescent mental health provision, when the government was already looking to embed a more targeted and comprehensive plan. The ambition; to create Mental Health Leads (DMHL) in school alongside the introduction of Mental Health Support Teams (MHST) to offer more direct referral pathways and the link between CAMHS and schools. This is now underway with the plan now to ensure every school has a Mental Health Lead by 2025.

Having Mental Health Leads to champion the way forward in schools, has the potential to be powerful and a step in the right direction, putting the spotlight on this intrinsic element and shaping the culture of the whole school community.

With Mental Health Leads receiving specific training and guidance, as launched in Mental Health Awareness week (May 2021) and funding made available, there will be expectations on schools having a strategic approach to whole school development. It will include staff wellbeing, how schools work with parents and carers to ensure the best provision for children, and the development of a menu of intervention and targeted approaches that are embedded, accessible and the impact can be seen and measured.

With this in place surely children’s mental health can be at the forefront of their school journey, shaping their ongoing pathway into a brave new and exciting world where schools have done them justice, supported them within school provision, and referred on where need be to the wider professional network of services.

The hope: a cohesive and strategic approach for all through the provision and dedication of Mental Health professionals working within a well-supported framework within our schools and the start of a journey to intensify resources, widen awareness and ensure schools are equipped to be the safety net and the platform for every child to matter.

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