Be CYP mental health cheerleaders despite the challenges caused by under resourcing.

Continuing our series of blogs for Children’s Mental Health Week (#childrensmentalhealthweek) that will culminate in a twitter chat on 12 February 2020 at 8pm UK time we have this blog by Barry Nixon.  Barry is the Northwest lead for CYP IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) with CMECIC , a community interest company that offers a range of services to provide mental health and wellbeing services to children and young people.

Barry Nixon


Pick up any newspaper, listen to the radio, or watch TV and it is not hard to find yet another negative story to do with children and young people’s mental health services (CYP MHS) and its inability to provide an adequate and responsive service to children and young people.

Sadly, good news stories rarely make the front page. In many ways, that is how it should be. Excellent care should be the norm rather than breaking news however this continuous criticism is unwarranted and could be counterproductive. It is time to end this relentless criticism of CYP MHS and calls for a more measured view of how the service is performing.

Unfortunately, as we all know, there have been instances whereby children and young people have not had the best care and treatment from mental health services they would have wished for but there are also examples of excellent care every day, and to tar the whole of the service with the same brush is not only wrong, but undermines potential progress.

This constant degrading and jaundiced view is of huge frustration and disappointment to staff who are working tirelessly to care for children and young people in often difficult circumstances. It is unhelpful; it damages confidence in individuals, staff groups and organisations and creates a culture of fear and defensiveness.

I am concerned that the effect of this continuous negative reporting is to cause further demoralisation of the workforce, at a time when morale is already at an all-time low. A pessimistic atmosphere diminishes the workforces’ ability to engage fully in their work and ultimately, affects staff morale impacting on the quality of care and treatment provided to children and young people.

Many of those in positions of influence offer enormous support and where possible assist in finding solutions to the challenges which CYP MHS is currently facing however; there are also those who prefer to add to the culture of constant criticism. Solving these seemly intractable problems requires vision and will and a concerted effort on the part of all concerned otherwise the rhetoric that mental health is everyone’s business, is just that!

The problems children and young people face today are highly complex, so to succeed we need a whole-system approach defined by mutual trust and respect. CYP MH cannot continue to provide a service based on the short comings of other services. The significant infusion of money, although welcome is not going to solve all that is wrong with CYP MH.

Excessive demands to meet targets, which are intended to improve care, treatment and the user experience lead to children and young people and their access to services being compromised with pressure to move them quickly through the services or not at all due to access criteria based only on available resources. Chasing a target is only financially viable if you are not depleting finance through reduced productivity, reduced engagement, high staff turnover, sickness rates and litigation.

CYP MH is a public service and to a large extent funded by the taxpayer, so there is a good reason for it to be scrutinised and held to account. It is right that there is open and frank criticism of CYP MH and its failures, as exemplified by recent media reports etc.

It seems unfair however that this is not reported within the context of austerity, inadequate technology, workforce shortages and a relentlessly increasing demand on services driven by increased prevalence, increased levels of need, reduction in services and demographic changes.

The imbalance between the number of negative and positive stories about CYP MH is stark. Perhaps if more of the positive news was publicised, organisations could learn more from one another and be able to replicate the success, further preventing failures from happening.

Any successful organisation understands the benefits of creating a trusting environment which values and supports staff and actively listens to and acts upon their feedback as well as that of service users. To maintain morale, we have to listen to the concerns of staff at the coal face and empower them by taking their concerns into account when designing solutions and implementing change.

The CYP MH Workforce has suffered for many years from a lack of investment, recent Government initiatives such as CYP IAPT the development of mental health support teams for schools have placed important skills into the hands of a wider range of professionals who are now in a position to make a difference to the lives of children and young people and transform services for the better.

It is now time to champion CAMHS and refrain from constantly berating it!

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