Supporting Children & Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing – can housing do more?

By Paula Lavis and Andrew van Doorn - on 15/05/2015

During Mental Health Awareness Week, Paula Lavis from the Children & Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, and Andrew van Doorn from HACT, ask how Housing Associations can engage with the mental health issues of their younger customers.

Children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing is everyone’s business. It requires input from all agencies, not just the NHS and social care. There are a broad range of factors that put children and young people at risk of developing mental health problems. These are broadly grouped into:

·         individual level – genetics, disability etc.

·         family level – securely attached to parents/carers etc.

·         community/environment level – poverty, housing, personal safety etc.  

The more of these factors a young person experiences, the greater the risk of developing a mental health problem.

However, it is not inevitable and there are things that can be done to help children and young people become more resilient and cope with what life throws at them. These resilience factors include good housing, good support networks, good relationship with parent(s) and family, and a good education.

We know that housing providers work with increasingly vulnerable people and families. They are ideally placed to play a role in fostering resilience in the communities in which they work. However, much of the mental health focus in the housing sector is on adults and older people. Could a stronger focus on children, young people, and families help prevent mental health problems and promote greater resilience and wellbeing?

There are significant concerns about the mental health and wellbeing of babies, children and young people and the statistics are stark:

·         28% of preschool children face problems in their lives that impact on their psychological development

·         half a million children are unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives

·         1 in 10 children and young people aged 5-16  have a mental disorder

·         1 in 6 young adults aged 16-24 have a common mental disorder

·         75% of adult mental health problems are present before aged 18

Services that support children and young people’s mental health have faced significant pressures and cuts over the last few years. Evidence points to an increasing number of children and young people with mental health problems.  Cuts in early intervention services and increasing pressures that children and young people face in their lives, are clearly contributing to this.

In response to these concerns, the previous Government set-up the Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Taskforce. The Taskforce was to inform Government about the problems facing children and young people, both in terms of health promotion and prevention work, as well as mental health interventions. They were asked to advise on what needs to happen to improve the situation.

In March 2015 they published their report Future in Mind, which includes a number of policy proposals, including:

·         local agencies developing and agreeing on transformation plans for children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing

·         collaborative commissioning

·         a lead accountable commissioning body

·         aligned or pooled budgets for children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing

We know that housing is a fundamental need. The environment that a child or young person lives in has a huge impact on their mental health and wellbeing.  

In policy terms though, health often takes housing for granted and accords it little specific focus. It is therefore not surprising that housing is not specifically mentioned in Future in Mind. Maybe this is because there is little focus itself on and interaction between the housing sector and the children and young peoples mental health sectors. This clearly needs to change.

As mental health and wellbeing continues to grow in importance, now is a good time to develop these relationships. Housing Associations, through their reach and investment in communities and families, can be involved in local transformation plans and play their part in improving mental health and wellbeing of children and young people. It’s still early days for the development of local transformation plans, and it’s certainly worth getting involved early on in their creation.

Beyond the provision of housing, there are a host of other things HAs can do, from neighbourhood planning to providing support. For instance, play is important for healthy child development, so access to safe, green areas are essential.   People who live near to a green space, report lower levels of aggression, violence and mental fatigue.  Young adults who are making the transition to adulthood often experience problems with housing and good advice helps reduce the stress they might experienceThe Centre for Mental Health’s briefing provides useful guidance on the role housing providers can play in identifying and addressing behavioural problems in children.

Even with the election commitments to invest more in mental health services, we will see further cuts in local provision. It’s going to be tough and we need to work differently to prevent longer-term problems, particularly around mental health.

When faced with new challenges and inspired with new ideas, housing associations have always risen to the challenge.  Now is the time to build on the work they already do with communities and families, develop new local partnerships and relationships, and extend their work to improve the mental health and wellbeing of all members of the community, especially children and young people.

HACT and the Children & Young People’s Mental Health Coalition will be working together to support greater local action, if you are interested please contact us.

Find out more about Mental Health Awareness Week here

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