The Government has this week released its findings to the recent consultation on Children’s Mental Health. The report provides very little space for youth work or youth workers in its findings, preferring instead to focus on the provision of mental health support and care in schools and the NHS; a path that was clear from the initial green paper and consultation framework, as we voiced on these pages in late April:
It is an oversight that the Green Paper does not once mention the potential for Youth Work’s involvement, focusing solely on schools, colleges, and the NHS. The consultation paper similarly does not provide a space for responders who are youth-workers or similar.
This said, there is some recognition within the findings that for ‘children in need and vulnerable children who might have more limited contact with mainstream schools and colleges’ alternative provision and models may be more beneficial, including work across sectors, and there is a plan to test this in different ‘trailblazer’ regions.
Furthermore, there are plans to create 8,000 new positions of employment overall, and again, the report states that the government are open to a range of delivery models for the teams these will largely create. The consultation found that:
Most respondents preferred either groups of schools and colleges (25% of respondents placed this in first place) or charities / non-governmental organisations (24% of respondents) to take the lead on setting up the teams.
In short, the space for youth workers may be implicit, rather than explicit; but there is clearly some potential that the Trailblazer programmes will attempt to incorporate youth work into its delivery model pilots.
Here we argue that provision for those most in need should be provided for outside of the school environment and over a longer period of time to help overcome many potential obstacles and disruptions for those who need it most. At the heart of this should be youth work.
The importance of having solid provision of mental health care and support outside of school settings to reach those in most need is increasingly evident given the rise in excluded pupils and those in alternative provisions (i.e. non-mainstream education). Detailed findings on this matter are set out in a recent Education Select Committee Report, ‘Forgotten Children’; but in short, key findings are that:
– There are at least 48,000 pupils educated outside of mainstream education and special schools
– Children in care, children in need, children with SEND and children in poverty are all more likely to be excluded than their peers.
In January 2017, 186,793 pupils in state funded mainstream or special schools had social, emotional and mental health as their primary category of SEN. IPPR estimates this to be one in 50 children in the general population, and one in two pupils in alternative provision.
It is almost, therefore more imperative at this time to ensure provision across all types of education as well as preventative measures to try and tackle the issues before alternative provision is needed. In promoting youth work as the most effective solution for the latter especially, it has recently been found that:
“youth programmes that support resilience and social mobility through developing the potential for continued progressive self-education, ‘soft’ non-cognitive skills, self-reliance, collaboration and activities in natural environments” are likely to be protective of mental health in adulthood.” 
A key phrase within this is ‘continued progressive self-education’. Having access to youth services over a long period of time allows a young person to explore their own mental health and social standing over an adequate time-frame and in different social settings, an absolute necessity for ‘self-education’ in a reflective and holistic manner across multiple causal variables.
The concern is that the intended provision within schools will not fully address these factors over the length of time needed for those who face the threat of exclusion, whether temporary or permanently, or for the increasing amounts of children in alternative provision, which will be primarily concerned with increasing attendance, achievements and behaviour; prioritising these over the actual needs of the young person to help fulfil target quotas and outcomes assessments.
A further cause for concern is that often ‘alternative provisions’ for those with the most pressing needs ends at 16, there is no statutory duty or central funding for this, and thus it is imperative that extended provision of healthcare is given.
Recent findings by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch have highlighted the dangers of truncated or inflexible services whilst assessing the transition that occurs from child to adult healthcare at 18, recommending a wider window for a more gradual transition up to the age of 25.
Compounding the need for support outside of these gaps in services, and also outside of much alternative provision, is that fact that it is within these very gaps that gangs often recruit; indeed the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, has recently stated that gangs looking to expand their drug-dealing businesses often turn to PRUs as a source of recruits, “They know where to find them. Their techniques are very tenacious – they use a whole range of models which are quite frightening.”
In summation, the principles of youth work are needed to help develop the long-term relationships and trust that is necessary to start addressing the most entrenched and pressing mental health needs of children and young people today. The breadth of delivery methods that youth work can offer, principally detached youth work in this case, is needed to try and reach those children who are either; falling through the gaps in between mainstream provision and alternative provision of education, or who come to the end of their education at an early age. Provision of extra staff in schools and throughout the NHS is fantastic, but the initiative would be best placed in incorporating and bolstering youth work as a large part of the preventative and supportive solution whilst allowing that youth work to retain its independence, range of flexible methods, and key characteristics that will help ensure not only that the most children are reached, but that they are given the most time, and that the most hidden or in need are not missed.
 Transforming Children and Young Peoples’ Mental Health Provision: A Green Paper, https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/transforming-children-and-young-peoples-mental-health-provision-a-green-paper#history [accessed 27 July 2018]
 Transforming, p. 24.
 Ibid. p. 12.
 https://jech.bmj.com/content/jech/early/2016/10/05/jech-2016-207898.full.pdf [accessed 27 July 2018]