A new report published highlights how school counseling and mental health support teams (MHSTs) could provide significant cost savings for taxpayers.
About the report
Following the publication of the resort by the charity Barnardo’s, which has been endorsed by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), the report calls on the UK Government to take action now in order to provide much-needed mental health support in schools in England – a measure it says could save the government millions of pounds and saving UK taxpayers similar amounts in the process.
The report echoes the BACP’s campaign for paid counselors to be available in every secondary school, academy, and further education college in England.
Costs versus benefits
The cost-benefit analysis by Barnardo’s is featured in its report ‘It’s Hard to Talk – Expanding Mental Health Support Teams in Education.’ published in December 2022 found that for every £1 invested in MHSTs, there is a predicted return of £1.90 to the state. This is through savings in further health care costs and the indirect benefits of improved school attendance and educational attainment.
According to Barnardos, only around 1% of health and care funding is currently spent on children’s mental health, and an estimated 6.5 million children are missing out on school-based support.
The report highlights how failing to roll out MHSTs now could cost the state £1.8 billion in alternative support from the NHS, including the impact of poor mental health on young people’s future contribution to society.
Speaking regarding the report’s findings, Jo Holmes, the Children, Young People, and Families Lead at the BACP, welcomed the report from Barnardo’s, saying,
“This is an important report by Barnardo’s that highlights the value of school counseling, not only to the children and young people it benefits but also to the public purse. The availability of counseling offers an accessible step-care approach for existing teams to refer on to for those children who often fall into the missing middle, caught between what MHSTs currently offer and higher-tiered CAMH services.
The report gives a true picture of what’s needed in schools and will take the pressure off CAMHS and off school staff and provide wider access to counseling in the many schools that can’t afford to pay for additional counseling provisions. The recommendations need to be acted on. They can’t go under the radar or simply be ignored.”
Counselors in every school
Barnardos is calling on the Government to commit to expanding the MHST program to every school and college in England. It’s also calling for every school to have a trained and registered school counselor, which would better meet the needs of some children and young people facing particular challenges.
Lynn Perry MBE, Barnardo’s CEO, said,
“Without mental health support teams in schools, there’s no safety net to catch children who need help. Existing waiting lists for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are groaning under the pressure, and high thresholds mean many children and young people have to wait until their mental health deteriorates before they get help.
We recognise that the Government can’t do everything, especially in the current economic climate. But we know that rolling out Mental Health Support Teams is the right thing to do both for young people today and for the country’s finances in the future. Extending this vital service would stop children from falling through the cracks and set them on the right path to a positive future.”
Adding to what Lynn Perry said in her statement, Polly Atkins, Children’s Services Manager for Barnardo’s, said,
“The consequences children and young people face when their mental health is not looked after can be huge and far-reaching. We are now also seeing how poor mental health can directly contribute to low academic attainment, which will inhibit their long-term career opportunities. In more severe cases, we know that young people who are experiencing poor mental health are self-harming or even taking their own lives, which is sadly a leading cause of death amongst children and young people.
As teachers will know their children, they are in a good position to notice any changes in their behavior, such as a student becoming withdrawn, their grades dropping, or if they stop doing their homework. But we also know that teachers are time-poor. That’s why the Government-funded specialist Mental Health Support Teams and counseling support would ensure that children can thrive both in and outside of school and into later life.”
The facts behind the report
According to Barnardos, a sixth of children and young people between the ages of 6-16 years old have a probable mental health condition, rising to a quarter of 17-19-year-olds (NHS Digital, 2022). Specialist services are failing to keep up with demand, and waiting lists are growing (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2021).
Children and young people have been affected by an unprecedented interruption to education and their social lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is now being followed by a rise in the cost of living that will impact thousands of families struggling to make ends meet.
Supporting children and young people’s mental health is vital to prevent long-term health, social and financial impacts into adulthood, states the charity. Schools and colleges are increasingly playing a part in recognizing children and young people in need and providing mental health services. Early identification and support are crucial to preventing children and young people from reaching a crisis point.
Barnardo’s delivers 12 Mental Health Support Teams (MHSTs) across England and has been involved in their delivery since the first wave of commissioning in 2018/19. Barnardo’s has conducted research with children, young people, service commissioners, teachers, and frontline practitioners, as well as drawing on its extensive experience as a mental health provider for this latest report on MHSTs in schools.
According to Barnardo’s, evidence shows the presence of MHSTs in educational settings improves children’s mental health and wellbeing and achieves savings for the state.
How do MHSTs work in educational settings?
Barnardo’s states that education providers play a vital role in mental health literacy through the curriculum, identification of at-risk children and young people, early intervention, and access to specialist support (Department for Education, 2021).
Further, that teachers are the most common first point of contact and source of support for children and young people experiencing mental health issues. However effective, early intervention for children and young people experiencing mental health issues is patchy and provided by several services, according to the charity.
Barnardo’s says that by MHSTs working in schools and colleges, these issues can be addressed through –
- creating a positive culture focused on wellbeing;
- offering interventions for children and young people with mild to moderate mental health issues; and
- supporting education leaders, teachers, parents, and carers to identify mental health issues early and ensure children and young people can access support.
Further information can be obtained by reading the full Barnardo’s report, which you can access via this link.
To summarise the report in concise form, Barnardo’s is requesting the Government to act on the following recommendations –
- MHSTs should be rolled out in all schools and colleges in England, helping schools to focus on wellbeing as well as identifying and providing early support to children and young people through specially trained staff;
- The MHST model should be expanded to meet the needs of more children and young people, particularly those for whom current MHST interventions aren’t suitable. The MHST+ model should include qualified counselors working within MHST teams or in partnership;
- MHSTs need clear guidance on what referral and outcomes data to collect and the tools and infrastructure to do so. NHS England should commit to publishing this data regularly;
- MHSTs and other services supporting children and young people’s mental health should be supported to innovate to meet local needs; and, finally
- The MHST workforce must be supported to grow and offer career progression as part of NHS long-term workforce plans.
What do you think about Barnardo’s report? How feasible do you believe the recommendations put forward by Barnardo’s are in reality? Let us know in the comments.