On January 9 2017, The Prime Minister pledged that every secondary school in England will get free mental health training, over three years, and improved support from local health services. 

This mental health training will be delivered by Mental Health First Aid UK. It will aim to ‘make school staff better at spotting signs of mental health problems in pupils.’ Her speech at the Charity Commission recognised that “help and support for children and young people with mental health problems would be needed to prevent untreated conditions blighting lives”. On 17 January, the education secretary, Justine Greening, writing in The Times, said the government also wanted to see schools get “the best support” from their local mental health services, “so children needing help can get the right treatment as quickly as possible”. Steps to ensure this promise did not include additional funding. It will be backed by the Care Quality Commission and Ofsted” and will also include new trials to strengthen links between schools and local NHS mental health staff. In addition, Ministers have pledged a review of child and adolescent mental health services across the country, which will take place in the spring and inform a new strategy due to launch later this year.

The crucial need for funding was highlighted by Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, who ‘welcomed the focus on children’s mental wellbeing, but said it would “fall short” without proper funding, especially in the face of cuts to school budgets.’ 

This pledge meets a recommendation in the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) recent publication State of Children’s Rights 2016 which assesses progress towards meeting the concerns and ‘Concluding Observations’ of The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child when they examined the compliance of the UK Government to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2016. Recommendation 4 in Briefing 7, Health, of this report is: Training about mental health for staff working in schools should be improved to better equip them in responding to the needs of students facing mental health and emotional problems.’

CRAE states: ‘It’s crucial that the Government uses the State of Children’s Rights 2016, alongside the UN Committee's Concluding Observations, to urgently identify what actions it will take so that all children can have a happy and fulfilling childhood and the best start in life.’ (Briefing 1, Executive Summary, p3)  It will also be used to inform strategy development, campaigns and funding bids by organisations working with children and young people.

Despite the commitment of the last three governments to attaining parity of recognition and funding between physical and mental health needs, the UN Committee highlighted that the promised investment of £1.4 billion (until 2020) in CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) is being delayed and failing to reach the frontline services where it is badly needed. CRAE recommends that this sum is ring fenced for local authorities. The year on year cuts to local authority funding have contributed to a ‘postcode lottery’ in mental health provision for children and young people. Young people’s rights are not being met consistently across the UK. ‘28% of children referred to CAMHS in 2015 were turned away – increasing to 75% in some areas. Nearly 60% of children were on a waiting list, with many forced to wait an average of 100 days.’ (Briefing 1, Executive Summary, p 9) 

My personal interest, in addition to my professional commitment,  in the rights of children and young people, has been raised and sharpened by the very recent arrival of my first grandchild, who is also the first of his generation in my wider family. A visceral emotional response has been added to logical, thoughtful research and discussion as this new relationship begins to affect the rest of my life. I will keep a keen look out for the new strategy for child and adolescent mental health services due out later this year following the review of CAHMS. 

‘Why don’t you hire a van and drive the chest of drawers from the Derbyshire Dales to Norwich? It’ll be cheaper than sending it with a Man with a Van.’ This was a challenge from my daughter, as well as a bright idea to save money. 

I fell for the challenge. The woman who showed me the transit van, a larger one than planned as it was now necessary to fit in a large wardrobe as well, was reassuring. ‘It’s easy to drive, like a Vauxhall Astra’, she said, ‘but just remember the length of the box on the back and use the wing mirrors’. ‘Quite’ I thought; that is the point of concern. 

Testing the upper limits of both my adrenalin levels and my courage, I set off home to collect the chest of drawers on the single track road over the tops. The fates were with me - no other vehicles and so no reversing to a passing place. 

The chest was too heavy for me to move up and down the stairs. I paid a handyman plus mate to move it the day before my journey to Norwich into my absent neighbour’s living room, on the flat. No-one was available on the day itself so I had to work out how to move the chest to the van. Tipping and dragging it on two of its feet was the answer.

The mission had extended to a stop at IKEA to collect the wardrobe. Parking in IKEA and getting out again was the next challenge, sorted by a distant car park with plenty of space.  Recent experiences have led me to realize that I can ask for help. The flat pack wardrobe was too heavy for me to move safely onto the trolley. A helpful assistant flipped it into place with expert ease. She advised me find a trolley locker, reverse the van into a loading bay and ask for help again, which I did - job done now until Norwich. I found a large space at some distance from the house but friends who came round later easily moved the furniture upstairs. 

This experience led me to reflect how very hard it can be for older single people, particularly those with limiting health issues, to get things done. Age UK quotes the ONS: ‘3.8 million older people live alone (70% of these are women)’ (ONS 2012). 

According to a survey in December 2014, 2.9 million older people (65+) in Great Britain feel they have no one to turn to for help and support. Charities like Age UK provide valuable services involving staff and volunteers but younger, fitter people over 65 years may not identify with that demographic. 

Addressing this issue can be similar to the process of resolving some leadership challenges. Thinking laterally, researching sources of information and help, and believing that asking for help is not a sign of weakness takes strength and confidence, but ultimately can answer the question: ‘How can I manage this?