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FEATURE: UKCP striving to address the gap in children’s mental health

UKCP child conference

Publication date: May 3, 2018 Author: Gem Sofianos

On Saturday UKCP’s children’s conference brought together leading experts and child psychotherapists to address the evolving crisis in children’s mental health and the gaps in services.

The conference showcased the inspiring and innovative work UKCP members undertake within a variety of settings that benefits the lives of countless children across the UK.

From babywatching and multi-family therapy in schools, to therapeutic story groups, community groups helping young people in Manchester, and residential Integrated Systemic Therapy for the most unwell, to name but a few.

Opening the conference UKCP chief executive Prof Sarah Niblock said: ‘UKCP wants a rights-based society providing the very best conditions in which our children can thrive.’

She explained that UKCP is in tune with the World Health Organisation’s constitution in ‘wanting mental wellness and health to be a basic human right.’

‘We are in a position to help make that happen now. Not in five years, now,’ she said.

‘We know that our therapies work in lasting and transformative ways. We not only solve mental health problems we also unlock potential.’

With over 800,000 children suffering from mental health problems in the UK, Niblock said: ‘It gives me no greater pleasure and pride to open this conference with the real belief that we can find a way to mind the gap in children’s mental health.

The conference was organised by Jill McWillam, Chair of the Faculty for the Psychological Health of Children, and Stephen Blunden, Chair of the College of Child and Adolescent Psychotherapies.

‘Current increases in support for mental health and well-being, and resilience for children in schools is vital, but with one in four of children with identified mental health need, we are ‘putting a plaster’ on children’s mental health issues, at a time when services are being cut to the bone and beyond,’ Jill McWilliam said, emphasising that longer-term care is urgently needed now.

‘We need to advocate high quality and longer-term psychotherapies therapy for children, otherwise children, families and society will pay a high price,’ she said.

Anne longfield at child conference

Children’s commissioner Anne Longfield was the morning’s key note speaker and highlighted the issues facing children.

Longfield told of the ‘shocking’ situation facing children. ‘There are too few dedicated services for children around the country and for too many children the support comes too late,’ she said.

‘Thousands of children aren’t receiving the help they need at the time they need it and too often referrals are only made when a child is in crisis,’ Longfield said.

She told of stories from young people who have ‘been passed from pillar to post’ only to be told that they don’t qualify for support.

‘We know most mental health issues begin in early years, so it’s even more important for early support to stop problems developing and escalating.’

‘Despite the excellent treatment that some are receiving only one in four of the children who need help actually receive it, and that just isn’t good enough,’ she said.

The Children’s Commissioner also touched on the impact social media has on children and her campaign to hold the media giants that run them to account, and she discussed the government’s children and young person’s green paper.

In what was an interesting and inspiring address she called on the government to do more. ‘We need seismic change,’ she said. ‘Be bold, be brave and do not compromise.’

‘If we can transform the provision of children’s mental health, which I believe we can, the rewards for doing so will be enormous, not just for those children but for society as a whole,’ she said rounding off her address.

After a day of workshops, Kathy Evans, Chief Executive of Children England, ended the day with a well-received keynote address.

In an interactive session her keynote drew on her wealth of experience as a long-standing champion of children, influencing children’s policy that has had a huge impact on services.

She spoke about the importance of ensuring that policymakers and wider audiences understand the benefits of psychotherapy, the importance of the therapeutic relationship and the impact it can have on children’s lives.

‘It is possible to have a huge impact from a small base,’ she said.

‘What will change life for a child is people. We are operating in a system, which is just so consumed with managerialism, it actually believes that management re-modelling is what will change children’s lives.’

She explained that the current system is too focused on ‘how long and when does it stop’, ‘what’s the unit cost’ and ‘what’s the effectiveness’, all of which do not fit with the psychotherapeutic relationship model.

‘Psychotherapy does not fit that model,’ she said. ‘Children need you to stick out for the relationship model because many people have been driven away from it.’

To encourage people to start thinking about how to share the benefits of psychotherapy and what it has to offer to children, Evans encouraged the room to come up with statements to represent what’s important about child psychotherapy.

‘With child psychotherapy we can make a ripple in the pond,’ ‘With child psychotherapy transformation is possible one child at a time’, ‘With child psychotherapy silence has a meaning’, were just a few of the examples the room came up with.

‘Our intention in planning this conference was to draw together psychotherapeutic professionals to think and learn together how we might creatively respond to the enormous and growing gap between the needs of so many children emotionally and psychologically and the available provision.After a rousing address from Evans, Stephen Blunden closed the conference.

‘I hope today has provided some direction in how we might build a UKCP strategy to respond to these circumstances.’