Children’s Mental Health: The Third Sector Contribution

Laura Dover
Everyone’s Children Development Worker 

The Everyone’s Children Project hosted a one-day conference on the 21st November to explore the contribution that third sector organisations make in supporting children and young people experiencing difficulties with their mental health.

Claire Haughey, Minister for Mental Heath

The Minister gave the keynote speech of the event and opened by saying that the Scottish Government’s goal was to achieve parity of treatment for mental and physical health. The Scottish Government has set up a taskforce chaired by Dr Denise Coia and allocated it £5m of additional funding to create a blueprint for children and young people’s mental health services and surrounding support. She described the 2018 Programme for Government as having “mental health at its heart”, key commitments being:

  • £60 million to develop counselling services in schools
  • £20m to provide more school nurses
  • Enhanced support and resources for teachers such as Scottish Mental Health First Aid training.

However, the Minister also acknowledged that schools cannot meet all of their pupils’ needs and that third sector organisations will be a key part of the support for children and young people with mental health difficulties. The Minister acknowledged that more accessible community provision is needed to support those children and young people for whom CAMHS is not appropriate. This will also free up more resources within CAMHS for those who require more specialist services.

Dame Dr Denise Coia, Chair of the Mental Health Taskforce

The Minister’s speech was followed by a presentation from Dame Dr Denise Coia, chair of the Mental Health Taskforce. Dr Coia said that there are major issues with current provision and that the Taskforce exists to “disrupt, act, deliver and push for change”. She referred to a number of statistics that indicate rising rates of poor mental health in young people:

  • Suicide is the third most common cause of death in young people
  • An international comparison shows that Scotland has amongst the lowest standards of mental health for both teenage boys and girls.
  • 30% of Scotland’s population are under the age of 24, but the allocation of resources does not reflect this proportionately

Dr Coia cautioned against over-medicalising emotional difficulties which many teenagers experience; having opportunities to talk about these issues with someone supportive is more appropriate than the specialised treatment offered by CAMHS. They come under the ‘generic’ strand of the Taskforce’s work, the other three strands being specialist, ‘at risk’ and neurodevelopmental disorders. It is thought that the third sector will be able to have a particular impact on the generic and ‘at risk’ strands, as these issues can be tackled in part by building resilient communities.

Dr Coia went on to say that the Youth Commission on Mental Health have played a valuable role in ensuring young people’s voices are included and taken into account. She closed by encouraging third sector organisations to continue to speak out about the challenges for young people’s mental wellbeing, as these insights are needed to improve the whole system of provision.

Fiona Moss, GCHSCP

In the afternoon, Fiona Moss – Head of Health Improvement and Equalities at Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership – gave an insight into their work to support young people’s mental health. Fiona highlighted the link between poverty and high rates of mental ill health, as the low standard of living for families in poverty will negatively affect their emotional wellbeing as well as physical.

Fiona outlined the range of HSCP initiatives aimed at tackling rising levels of mental ill health, such as the “One Good Adult” approach which emphasises the importance of a trusted adult in a child or young person’s life, and MCR Pathways which is a mentoring scheme for young people. HSCP have also been working to build resilience in schools, including training 1300 professionals in Greater Glasgow and Clyde in self-harm awareness, and providing a resource pack on self-harm for teachers. They are also looking to expand their Youth Health Service and are examining ways to use digital tools to engage with and support young people.

Hilda Campbell, COPE

Hilda gave some brief reflections on the day, pointed out that practitioners have been aware of many of the issues raised for some time.  She expressed concern that many of the natural emotions and journeys experienced by children and young people as they grow up are being unnecessarily medicalised, and that many would benefit more from opportunities to talk than from medical treatment. This need for a plurality of types of service is why no one sector can handle the challenges facing children, young people and their families on its own; sectors need to work together more often and more effectively.

Plenary session and workshops

The conference closed with a plenary session featuring Fiona Moss and Hilda Campbell along with Laura Sharpe from the ‘See Me’ project. The panel and audience discussed links between poor sleep, technology and mental health, as well as how to support mental wellbeing in early years. Third sector attendees expressed an interest in being involved in shaping and planning services, which is particularly challenging for smaller organisations. There were also concerns about whether pupil equity funding (PEF) is being effectively used to support the mental wellbeing of children and young people as there is no public information available about how PEF has been spent.

Attendees at the conference were able to attend two of the following four workshops:

  • Child Bereavement: Val Scholfield from Richmond’s Hope gave a session on how children experience bereavement and how best they can be supported
  • Raising Awareness: Laura Sharpe from See Me Scotland discussed how to tackle mental health stigma. She demonstrated their “Feels FM” website which has tools to encourage young people to talk about how they are feeling.
  • Emotional Wellbeing in Schools: Colin Simpson from Quarriers facilitated a workshop about their ‘Let’s Talk’ initiative, a pupil equity funded project which takes a whole-school approach to mental wellbeing,
  • Resilient Communities: Shona Stirling, from Healing of the Heart, provided a session on how to help children who have experienced trauma to develop positive attachments which will help them to recover.

Key points arising from the day

  • Cannot separate high poverty rates with increasing mental health difficulties in children and young people. Tackling child poverty must be a key element of any response to the mental health crisis.
  • There is potential for third sector services to work together and with the statutory sector, and to look at offering a greater range of support services which move away from traditional medical or pure counselling approaches
  • It is vital that the voices of children and young people are heard and considered when designing services or projects, as provision must respond to their needs
  • The approach to tackling poor mental health must look at transforming the whole system and how whole schools and communities can contribute, rather than at individual children and young people


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