Mental health services for schools in Wales
Understanding and mapping your local service landscape is an important factor in planning and improving children’s access to support.
In January 2020, the Welsh government announced that they were doubling the amount of funding available to local authorities to help them implement a whole-school approach to mental health in schools.
The government also issued draft statutory guidance on embedding a whole-school approach. This means that local authorities in Wales, and governing bodies of maintained nursery, primary, secondary and special schools, must have regard for the guidance when carrying out their duties.
This increase in funding, together with the comprehensive guidance, means that schools should see the amount of support available increase – but it can be difficult to know where to begin.
Support available for schools
There are many different avenues schools can explore when looking for mental health support. Some are provided by the government, while some may be something schools decide to fund and provide themselves.
- School counselling service: All local authorities in Wales are required to provide school counselling services for pupils in Year 6 of primary school and throughout secondary school. Referrals to this service can be made by schools as well as by parents or carers. To refer a child, you will need to find the contact details for the school counselling service in your area by contacting your local authority.
- Healthy Schools scheme: the Welsh Network of Healthy School Schemes (WNHSS) encourage the development of local healthy school schemes within a national framework. Each local scheme is responsible for ensuring schools are supporting the health and wellbeing of their pupils effectively. Every school in Wales should be part of a Healthy Schools scheme – if you aren’t, you can find the contact details for your local scheme here.
- Teacher training: Lots of mental health organisations offer teacher training for Welsh teachers. Place2Be’s Mental Health Champions training is available to schools in Wales, and the Anna Freud Centre have different online training courses suitable for schools across the UK. Some local authorities in Wales offer emotional literacy support assistant (ELSA) training, which trains teaching assistants to support children’s wellbeing.
- Intervention programmes: Some schools may consider investing money in specific mental health and wellbeing programmes. Welsh primary school network Happen have a list of school-based interventions on their website. Some paid-for interventions often run by Welsh schools include Thrive, PATHS® and Jigsaw.
Commissioning a mental health service or intervention
If your school wants to commission an in-school mental health service or intervention, you will need to:
- Make sure it is evidenced-based, safe and effective, and delivered by qualified and experienced professionals. Always ask a service provider to share their credentials and evidence base with you.
- Be clear about what your aims are – what you want to change/improve, who will benefit most and how you will measure progress.
- Research and assess the programme/intervention so that you understand how it could be implemented in your school and how it could integrate with other activities.
- Make sure it offers value for money and is cost-effective.
Consider how the programme/intervention would be delivered/accessed and be clear on the standards of service and level of quality assurance offered. Ask advice from local commissioners if unsure.
Broader community services
There may come a time when in-school support is not enough, and schools may identify a child in need of further support.
With good mental health awareness, school staff can help steer children and families to more specialist mental health support in the local community. A knowledge of what is available in your local area is key.
Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, or CAMHS, are the NHS-run services that assess and treat children with mental health issues. CAMHS is available across the UK, and can work with schools to accept referrals.
If schools want to refer a child to their local CAMHS, they will need to speak to their local authority to do so. Some schools may want to speak to CAMHS before any particular need arises, to ensure they are clear on what to do if a child presents with mental health problems. Find out more about how to work with your local CAMHS.
Specialist CAMHS are designed to only meet the needs of children with severe and/or complex health issues. This means that schools need to have a good understanding of the other support available in their area.
Other services and how to find them
Outside of CAMHS, the support available for children’s mental health varies by local authority in Wales. It is therefore difficult to provide clear and prescriptive advice on what range of services all schools might expect to find, but there are some avenues schools can explore.
- Directories of services: Your local authority should have a directory of services supporting children’s mental health and wellbeing. If you can’t find yours, NHS Wales’s website features links to local mental health services, split up by health board.
- Find your local point of access: Is there a local central gateway through which you refer all children if you have mental health concerns? These arrangements can help schools understand and build up knowledge on who locally might support different levels of need.
- Team Around the Family (TAF): many local councils in Wales will have a TAF. This service aims to support families with a wide range of issues to make positive changes for their children and family. TAF are able to signpost families to other services that are relevant to their specific needs.
- This website: includes a range of national support helplines and resources to help school staff, children and families get the help they need.
- Online counselling: Do you have online counselling available in your local area? (e.g. organisations such as Kooth or The Mix – these services are mainly targeted at children in KS3 and beyond).
- Helplines: Do you know about the available helplines and self-help tools (e.g. Childline, YoungMinds’ parent helpline) for children and for their families? These are not long-term solutions for children’s and families’ needs but can offer advice, self-management strategies and help children while they are waiting to access local support.