Can early intervention services help relieve child mental health service waiting times?

Last week The Guardian published an article entitled Buckling NHS fails to treat 250,000 children with mental health problems. In the last three years, partly as an impact of the pandemic, children and young people are 50% more likely to experience mental health problems, but 60% of those referred by GP are not receiving any form of mental health support. 

Average waiting times across England have raised by two-thirds. The House Magazine conducted a study showing that there is a postcode lottery attached to how long a child will wait for treatment. In the South London and Maudsley NHS trust, which serves Lambeth, Southwark, Lewisham and Croydon, one individual waited 137 weeks to access support.  

As a result of these wait times the NHS have been forced to raise the threshold reached to receive care. This means that children who have self-harmed or experienced suicidal ideation aren’t even being placed on the waiting lists. Children are having to reach crisis point before an intervention is put in place, which is too late. Early intervention services like are needed to ensure that children aren’t reaching that point of crisis. 

The charity sector is stepping in to help fill the gaps that the reduced funding in the NHS is leaving. The Kids Network are proud to be one of those services. We know that 50% of lifelong mental health issues can be diagnosed before the age of 14, usually preceded by a range of smaller non-specific emotional-social difficulties in life, but 70% of these children aren’t able to access support through mainstream healthcare. 

Poor mental health doesn’t just impact childhood but has been shown to have negative effects on qualifications, employment, relationships and physical health in later life. In response to this, mentoring has been shown to be one of the solutions that can consistently and effectively help children to overcome the difficult circumstances and deliver a wide range of positive outcomes across their lives. A major evidence review on 73 evaluations of mentoring programmes with children found that the evidence “supports the effectiveness of mentoring for improving outcomes across behavioural, social, emotional, and academic domains of young people’s development”, that “mentoring has the capacity to serve both promotion and prevention aims”, and that the “benefits of participation in mentoring programmes are apparent from early childhood to adolescence”.

At The Kids Network, our mentoring programme is trauma-informed. This means we recognise and build on strengths, developing protective factors such as trusted relationships and a sense of pride so that children’s resilience grows. 90% of children reported an increase in their happiness over their mentoring journey, with 74% feeling more hopeful for their future. 

When 11 year old Luke joined the Kids Network as a mentee he had dropped out of school as a result of bullying. Luke was angry and sad at both his school and his parents and his mental health was becoming a concern. He was referred to TKN and matched with his 25 year old mentor, Jordan. Through their sessions, talking about their shared interests of Marvel superheroes and science Luke began to feel safe talking about his emotions. A year on Luke no longer needs a support worker and is happy in a new school and is now looking to help others “If I can help other people that are upset or down from bullying or something like that. I would really like that. I would really like to help people in the same way that Jordan helped me.” 

You can read Luke’s full story and more about TKN’s research and commitment to Early Intervention here. 

If you want to be part of the solution you can become a mentor to a Little Londoner. Our mentors are community heroes giving up their time once a week to be a role model for a child in their local area. TKN provide all the training and support needed to be the best possible experience for you and the mentee. 

You can also support our work by making a donation or fundraising to help us continue to make lifelong impact for a child.  


Further reading 

Children’s Mental Health this Autumn. The Kid’s Network 

Waiting in Line. The Children’s Society 

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