Making young minds matter: Reshaping support services

Publication Details

Launched on 21st August, ResPublica’s new report for Barnardo’s Making Young Minds: Reshaping support services for young people in the new Parliament offers a framework to improve mental health provision and support services for young people and children.

The theme of social divisions and inequality of opportunity within the UK has taken on greater political significance in recent years, in large part as a result of last year’s vote to leave the European Union as well as the lasting effects of the Great Recession of 2008. This has been reflected in the policy programmes and language of both major national political parties

This report offers a vision of what a support system built around the three themes we argue should be at the heart of any reform of support services over the new Parliament. These are support built around early, proactive intervention, service providers as equal partners in service design and delivery and young people shaping the support they receive.

The measures we recommend should be considered as a vision of how these principles can inform the work of national and local government, in partnership with charities and other institutions of civil society, to secure a better future for young people in care, confronting mental health problems, or facing any other obstacle to their future wellbeing and success.

Recommendations include:

  • Government should introduce a ‘duty’ to require local authorities to promote collaborative working between all relevant stakeholders in designing and delivering support services for young people, alongside a standardised impact model to facilitate this aim.
  • Government should allow further devolution deals, in line with the Greater Manchester model, to enable other regions to undertake radical public service reform at the local level.
  • Government should provide long-term funding certainty to local authorities, alongside ring-fencing of central funding for frontline services for looked-after children and young people with mental health difficulties.
  • The new What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care should look into best practice and innovation in engaging young people in service design and delivery.
  • Government should establish an Innovation Fund to explore the potential for new technology to engage young people in public services.
  • Government should review the funding required for local authorities and service providers to work together to offer universal 0-19 service provision in children’s centres.

Tim Loughton MP, former Children’s Minister, said: “I strongly welcome this report from ResPublica, which rightly draws attention to the increasing pressure which support services for children are being put under and offers valuable thoughts on how this trend can be reversed in the interests of achieving a more just society.

A cross-party inquiry into children’s social care which I chaired earlier this year uncovered the unintended consequences of funding cuts to children’s services and the targeting of support towards those young people whose needs are greatest. We know that appropriate early intervention means better outcomes for children and their families, as well as saving the taxpayer money in the long-run, but our inquiry found that preventative activity has been sidelined in order just to meet immediate and critical need. The effects of this can already be seen in the alarming rise in the number of children being taken into care.

A nationally-led focus on high-quality early intervention will be crucial to ending the postcode lottery in the approach to and quality of children’s social care seen across the country, and I urge the Government to consider carefully the policy and structural changes outlined in this report in that regard. As a society, we can no longer afford to overlook the needs of our vulnerable young people and I echo this report’s call for Government to make addressing their needs a top priority for this Parliament.”

Cat Smith MP, Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs, said: “I welcome this report which calls on the Government to deliver an ambitious domestic agenda that enables young people to realise their full potential.

The report highlights the vital role charities and other service providers play in supporting the younger generation and the importance of involving young people as stakeholders in this process. The report also raises serious concerns about the long-term viability of local government funding for children and youth services. I hope this Government will consider the proposals put forward in this paper when developing their delayed youth policy statement.

It is vital that this Government does not lower its domestic policy ambitions in light of the complexities presented by Brexit. However, without a Minister responsible for youth policy it is currently not clear what strategy is in place to ensure that the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people get the support they need from government.

I look forward to working with ResPublica and Barnardo’s in the future to address these issues so we can build a country that works for the many, not the few.”

Javed Khan, Chief Executive, Barnardo’s said: “ I sincerely welcome this policy paper from ResPublica, which astutely and incisively draws attention to the crucial role of support services for young people, and the organisations like Barnardo’s which deliver them, in building a country which can offer all our children a real prospect of happiness, health, and prosperity.

It sets out a clear-sighted picture of how the help we provide as a country to our most vulnerable children and young people will need to change in the coming years.

I call on the institutions of national and local government to seize this opportunity and accompany us as we undertake the task of converting its ambitions into reality.”

Phillip Blond, Director, ResPublica said: “We must face up to the fact that, as a country, our provision of support for our most vulnerable young people – and future fellow citizens – is in crisis.

The recent distressing case of Girl X was a wake-up call, demonstrating to the public at large what those working in mental health support for children have known for some time – that we have failed to pay sufficient attention to the needs of young people facing emotional difficulty or to the scale of that need across that demographic, and that we have under-invested in the help we offer them as a result. The record numbers of children in care meanwhile – over 70,000 in England at the last estimate – contrasts sharply with declining resources for children’s social care, and means that we risk being unable to properly provide for the needs of those children who need the state’s support most.

Charities and civil society more broadly have a crucial role to play in supporting the state to address this crisis, and this report offers a vision of how their resources and knowledge can best be harnessed by government at a national and local level, in the interests of securing better outcomes for vulnerable children and young people.”

Report author Duncan Sim, Research Associate, ResPublica, said:

“This report outlines both structural and policy changes which we believe are necessary to help our society’s most vulnerable children and young people to make their fullest possible contribution to the UK’s future social and economic prosperity, and to themselves share in that prosperity. It is only through closer working between national government, local authorities, the voluntary sector, and other relevant stakeholders – including, in the case of young people’s mental health, social media companies – that we will achieve the outcomes we wish to see for those young people.

Social media platforms should not be made scapegoats for the increasingly well-documented mental health difficulties faced by young people – indeed, as the report recognises, they can be a crucial source of advice and support for young people in distress. However, in light of growing evidence of the negative effects of social media on young people’s wellbeing, we believe it is incumbent upon these companies to express their social responsibility by working with government on this vitally important issue.

Yet this collaboration represents only one piece in a much larger puzzle and will not be enough in isolation to safeguard young people’s wellbeing. This is why we are calling on the Government to prioritise measures which can prevent mental health difficulties presenting or escalating among children in the first place, such as an expansion of in-school counselling, as well as putting in place the long-term funding arrangements which give local authorities the confidence and freedom to invest in high-quality and accessible support services. Young people’s voices must be heard in this debate too, and we urge Government to invest in research into the potential for digital technology to allow young people to engage more fully in how support services are designed and delivered.”

  • Duncan Sim

    Research Associate

    Duncan worked at ResPublica for three years. He graduated from Oxford University (Keble College) in July 2014 with a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE), where his studies focused on UK and US domestic politics and central banking. Working...

    Duncan Sim