National policy

National policy

There has been increasing awareness of the importance of children and young people’s mental health over the past 10 years. As summarised in this research briefing, national strategies have focused on prevention and early identification, as well as improving access to mental health services.

Year Policy Summary
2015 Future in Mind Highlighted the importance of prevention and early identification; as well as coordinated support and the promotion of good mental health amongst children and young people.
2017 Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision Highlighted the importance of giving every child the ‘best start in life’, including by protecting and improving children’s mental health, and taking a whole family approach. It proposed the introduction of designated mental health leads in all schools, new mental health support teams and trialling reduced waiting times for specialist mental health services.
2019 NHS Long Term Plan The NHS Long Term Plan laid out the national policy for improving the healthcare system, from 2019/20 to 2023/24. It set out the following priorities relating to children and young people’s mental health (Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Integrated Care System, 2022e):

  • Test approaches that could deliver four week waiting times for access to NHS support, ahead of introducing new national waiting time standards for all children and young people who need specialist MH services.
  • Boost investment in children and young people’s eating disorder services to continue seeing 95% of urgent cases within 1 week, and within 4 weeks for non-urgent cases.
  • With a single point of access through NHS 111, all children and young people experiencing crisis will be able to access crisis care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by 2023/24.
  • Extension of New Models of Care/Provider Collaboratives continue to drive integrated pathways.
  • Develop digitally enabled care pathways for children and young people in ways which increase inclusion.
  • By 2023/24, at least an additional 345,000 children and young people aged 0-25 will be able to access NHS-funded mental health services.
  • Mental Health Support Teams (MHSTs) working in schools and colleges – early intervention and whole school approach across 20-25% of country by 2023.
  • Additional investment in Youth Justice services.
  • Reduced waiting times and increased support for children and young people with learning disabilities and/or autism
  • 6,000 highly vulnerable children with complex trauma will receive consultation, advice, assessment, treatment and transition into integrated services
2020 Advancing mental health equalities strategy Set out key actions NHS England will take to reduce mental health inequalities, in terms of supporting local health systems, data and information and workforce.
2023 Suicide prevention in England: 5-year cross-sector strategy
  • Aims to reduce the suicide rate over the next five years; to improve support for people who have self-harmed; and to improve support for people bereaved by suicide
  • Focus on providing targeted support to children and young people
  • Highlighted the need to focus on key transition points, including the transition from children and adolescent mental health services to adult mental health services

Table 2: National context for children and young people’s mental health

NICE guidelines

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) offers clinical guidelines and quality standards for recognising, diagnosing and managing a wide range of mental health and neurodevelopmental conditions in children and young people. A review of NICE guidance and the evidence-base for treatment mental health conditions for children and young people (up to age 18) was carried out in 2022.

Key guidance covers: