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Scrutiny Task Group on improving children’s mental health in Westminster publish interim report and initial recommendations

Published: 7 December 2021

  • As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, some children and young people’s mental health across the UK have experienced a negative impact, including in Westminster
  • In March 2021, a group of cross-party councillors set up a scrutiny task group to understand this issue better and to determine if and how the Council could be doing more above its existing initiatives
  • On 29 November, the scrutiny task group published an interim report - prior to the publication of its final report in February 2022 – highlighting the important work already taking place and making four key recommendations:
    • Expansion of mental health and wellbeing interventions for early years
    • Additional funding from NHS for Westminster clinical mental health services
    • Improved promotion of available services in Westminster to children and young people
    • Stronger advertising of wellbeing programmes available through Our City

Through analysis of NHS digital data, the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that between April and June of this year, just over 190,000 children in the UK between 0 and 18 years of age were referred to mental health services - up 134% on the same period last year (81,170) and 96% on 2019 (97,342).

The Centre for Mental Health had also previously estimated that as many as 1.5 million more children and young people in the UK may now need new or additional mental health support as a result of the pandemic.

In March 2021, Westminster City Council decided to shine a spotlight on this issue and established a cross-party scrutiny task group - with the objective of better understanding children and young people’s mental health needs in Westminster and how and if the council could be doing more above its existing initiatives.

The focus of the scrutiny task group is the mental health and emotional wellbeing needs of children and young people from 0 to 25 years of age.

Since March 2021, the scrutiny task group has collated extensive evidence from key stakeholders across Westminster including from young people themselves, council services such as the Public Health team and Children’s Services, schools, community providers like MIND, as well as NHS-funded Children and Adolescents Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Reflecting the national picture, evidence gathered has shown that the pandemic has likely increased the prevalence of poor mental health in children and young adults in Westminster and significantly hindered access to support.

For example, The Young Westminster Foundation has found that over 60% of young people feel that mental health issues were either somewhat or very common amongst their peers. Both the local CAMHS and Mental Health Support Teams in schools (MHST) report that as well as seeing high levels of need, they are also seeing an increase in the complexity of presentations.

Despite the increased demand and complexity of cases that key stakeholders have been witnessing, the scrutiny task group was reassured to find unanimous commitment from all responsible organisations to support children and young people across Westminster.

Witnesses informed the group that, whilst referrals to CAMHS had increased during the pandemic, the increase appeared lower than that of neighbouring boroughs. One of the early hypotheses for this was that Westminster had a strong early intervention offer, and therefore children and young people were being supported before they reached crisis point.

All cross-party task group members were impressed with the programme of work by specialist council teams and local partners and their findings painted a picture of a borough working tirelessly to improve children and young people’s emotional wellbeing and mental health.

The scrutiny task group’s interim report, released on 29 November and in advance of the full report in February 2022, suggests where the existing great work could be built on and improvements could be made to meet the greater need from children and young people as a result of the pandemic.

The four key recommendations of the interim report are:

  • Expansion of work by the council to monitor and evaluate children’s health and wellbeing particularly in early years for early intervention such as the council’s Healthy Early Years programme and Healthy Schools programme
  • A greater allocation of funding to Westminster Children and Adolescent’s Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to enable more children to benefit from a service that is having a demonstrable positive impact   
  • Enhanced and tailored promotion of existing mental health services available to children and young people across the borough tailoring it to suit this group’s communication preferences
  • Improved awareness of the Our City directory which hosts activities, programmes and support for under 25s in Westminster

Between now and February 2022, the scrutiny task group will support key stakeholders from the council and local partners to progress these interim recommendations.

The final report, which will expand on these recommendations, will be reviewed at the next Business and Children’s Policy and Scrutiny Committee on 2 February 2022. It will be published and promoted during Children’s Mental Health Week February 2022.

Cllr Karen Scarborough, Chairman of the Business and Children’s Policy and Scrutiny Committee and Board member of the Young Westminster Foundation said:

Improving children and young people’s emotional wellbeing and mental health in Westminster is of utmost importance to the council.

It’s so encouraging to see that the council’s specialist teams and dedicated local partners are leading the way in supporting children and young people in London.

We know that this cohort are having a particularly tough time at the moment and, following the recommendations of the scrutiny task group, we are going to do all we can to enhance our offerings and ensure that more children and young people feel supported.

There are so many opportunities that young people can benefit from and enjoy in Westminster and we are determined to support them to feel confident, happy and optimistic about their futures.  

Read more about the context of children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing in Westminster, the findings of the task group and their recommendations under five key themes in their interim report.