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Children and young people’s mental health

Children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing is a priority for the Scottish Government. It is central to achieving its ambition for Scotland to be the best place in the world for children to grow up. The Scottish Government’s mental health strategy focuses on early intervention and prevention. However, in practice this is limited, and mental health services for children and young people are largely focused on specialist care and responding to crisis. The system is complex and fragmented, and access to services varies throughout the country. This makes it difficult for children, young people, and their families and carers to get the support they need.

Mental health services for children and young people are under significant pressure. The number of referrals to specialist services increased by 22 per cent, from 27,271 to 33,270, between 2013/14 and 2017/18, with rejected referrals also increasing. Children and young people are waiting longer for treatment, with 26 per cent who started treatment in 2017/18 waiting over 18 weeks, compared to 15 per cent in 2013/14.

Data on mental health services for children and young people is inadequate, with a lack of evidence of what difference existing services are making to children and young people with mental health problems. It is not possible to track all spending, but available information shows that six per cent of spending on NHS mental health services is on children and young people. Overall, between 2013/14 and 2016/17, published NHS spending on children and young people's mental health increased by 11.9 per cent in real terms, from £50.6 million to £56.6 million.

Directing funding towards early intervention and prevention while also meeting the need for specialist and acute services is a major challenge. A step change in the way that the public sector in Scotland responds to the mental health needs of children and young people is required, with integration authorities having a major role to play. Transforming services will only be possible with a clearer view of what works, a plan for how the system needs to change and a move away from reliance on short-term and isolated initiatives.