Southwark is the first local authority in the country to make a simple but necessary commitment: to deliver 100% of the mental health needs of children and young people in our borough.
We recognise this is significantly higher than the NHS target of 35% but we are determined to deliver on our ambitious 100% goal, because our children deserve it. So recent months have seen a lot of learning and planning - a key part of this is the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Commission.
This first meeting of the Commission was a really important step in our journey. It brought together experts in mental health and key thinkers in social policy. They will guide our work and monitor progress, helping us revolutionise mental health support for children, young people and their families.
I was extremely grateful to Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield OBE for coming to our first meeting. Young people have shared painful experiences with her about difficulties accessing mental health services. She shared some of their stories with us, highlighting again the very real need for the task we have set ourselves.
As part of her keynote speech, Anne drew on her experience of young people often feeling like they were not ill enough to access services and when they did, they were often met with long waiting times. She also highlighted the role that social media played in exacerbating adolescent anxieties.
This dark sentiment of ‘not being sick enough’ has resonated as our work has progressed. No young person should ever find themselves in this position. I have heard similar testimonies myself end every time it reminds me just how important this work is. There are children and their families across our borough, and of course all around the country, who are in desperate need of support. We must do all that we can to ensure they have the life-saving support when they need it.
I don’t think anyone under-estimates the challenge that we have set ourselves. No other local authority has tried to do this. But we are already encouraged; we are beginning to see what our offer will look like both in terms of practical delivery and the ethos that underpins it. Across the council and our partner organisations, there is real commitment. We are determined to listen to young people and to ensure they are represented in our plans and service delivery.
As part of this work I have been struck by the innovation that I’ve seen at a local level that demonstrates that there is significant room for improvement. Exciting innovations in Birmingham and Camden are just two examples of how local government and other stakeholders are working to improve the lives of vulnerable young people through prevention of poor mental health as well as better access to services.
These formative years for children are not a dress rehearsal. Effective support, at the right time, can make a huge difference throughout their lives. Here in Southwark we’re aiming for 100% because nothing less will do. I’m thrilled that we will soon be putting these plans into action.
Cllr Jasmine Ali is chair of the commission and cabinet member for children, schools and adult care at Southwark Council