Councils play a vital role in supporting children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). They also play a broader role in promoting good mental health and tackling mental ill health, and are committed to providing all young people with the support they need to thrive.
- Councils play a vital role in supporting children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). They also play a broader role in promoting good mental health and tackling mental ill health, and are committed to providing all young people with the support they need to thrive.
- The pandemic has exacerbated existing mental health issues among children and young people, with the number of children with mental health problems seen by social workers surging by a quarter. However, even before this children’s mental health services had seen a massive increase in demand.
- To meet the demand that has built up during the pandemic and before, it is vital that there is sustainable investment in the whole system of children’s mental health support, including councils and the NHS, to make sure that children get the help they need, when they need it.
- Mental health is not just an NHS issue and needs to be addressed as part of a holistic approach to children and young people’s overall health and wellbeing. We have long called on the Government to invest in councils’ local safety nets and the universal and early help services, including mental health and wellbeing services, that provide young people with early help and ‘low-level’ mental health support and prevent problems from escalating.
- Councils and their partners continue to face significant challenges in supporting the growing number children and young people with SEND. While the number of children with Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans has grown year on year, until recently national funding has stagnated and as a result councils’ have been unable to keep up with demand despite consistently investing more than their allocated funding for SEND.
- We are pleased that the Government has recognised some of these challenges, with the allocation of over £2.4 billion in additional high needs funding to councils for 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 in the last Spending Review. Going forward, it is vital that councils have long-term certainty over funding to support children with SEND. We are also calling for the Department to work with councils to eliminate high needs block deficits.
- The Department for Education’s (DfE’s) ongoing review of the SEND system is much needed, and we look forward to working with Government and partners to take forward its recommendations. The Review must set out how all partners can work collectively to ensure all children with SEND and their families have the support they need; increase levels of inclusion in mainstream settings and give councils the powers to hold local partners to account to deliver the best outcomes for children.
- Councils want to be able to provide the very best support for all children, and to underpin this work we are urging Government to work with councils on a child-centred, cross-Whitehall strategy to deliver the best future for every young person.
Children’s mental health services
- Local authorities have a vital role in helping children have mentally healthy childhoods, including the provision of affordable and secure housing, green spaces, leisure and culture activities, and crucially through the provision of community-based early intervention and prevention services, which help children and families stay well and address issues before they reach crisis point.
- The pandemic has exacerbated existing mental health issues among children and young people. The number of children with mental health problems seen by social workers surging by a quarter, amounting to 1500 children presenting to councils each week. However, even before this children’s mental health services had seen a massive increase in demand, with the number of children referred to mental health services increasing by nearly 60 per cent between 2017/18 and 2019/20.
- At the same time, reductions in councils’ core funding have meant that they have had to reduce spending on early help and preventative services. Spending on preventative children’s services has fallen from 41 per cent of children’s services budgets in 2010/11 to just 25 per cent in 2017/18. Meanwhile, spending on youth services reduced by 69 per cent, from £1.4 billion to £429 million.
- While councils welcomed the Wellbeing for Education Return and Recovery funding the Government provided to councils, it was a small amount of money given the scale of need being presented to schools, councils and health services. To truly address the crisis in mental health of our children and young people, it is vital that there is long-term sustainable investment in the whole system of children’s mental health support, including councils and the NHS, to make sure that children get the help they need, when they need it.
Investing in early intervention and prevention
- There needs to be a shift away from treating children once they are diagnosed with a mental illness, towards providing preventative and ‘low-level’ mental health support that helps children and young people cope with challenges and stay mentally well.
- At present, we are concerned that the system does not effectively support an early intervention approach. Responsibilities for providing and overseeing earlier intervention in mental health are unclear, with both the NHS and DfE currently having roles to play. The understanding of ‘what good looks like’ in terms of universal provision for mental health has not been defined, and the system is often incentivised to strive for targets that relate to access to specialist support rather than long-term outcomes.
- We support the intentions set out in the 2017 Green paper ‘Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision,’ and we’re pleased that there has been recognition that local government will be vital in its delivery. The government urgently needs to build on the progress made through the Green Paper and empower councils to develop a systemic approach to mental health, that effectively brings together all local partners and is underpinned by investment in prevention and early intervention.
- Councils want to work in partnership with the NHS to target funding effectively in their local areas and ensure all young people have access to preventative and early help services. As new Integrated Care Partnerships are developed, we will continue to work with partners to develop this approach and would like to see a national expectation that each ICS prioritises children and young people’s emotional health and well-being.
- We are calling for early support hubs, which allow young people to access mental health support without referrals, to be made available for young people nationwide. These centres bring together various services to support young people’s mental health and emotional wellbeing - such as youth services; sexual health, drug and alcohol, health and wellbeing practitioners; and mental health practitioners - before they hit crisis point. The hubs, which have already been rolled out in some areas, are delivering impressive outcomes with some reporting social and economic benefit returns of more than triple the money that has been invested.
- Councils have a lead role in managing the hubs and should be seen as partners in supporting their communities’ mental health needs. In addition to increased funding, councils want to see the introduction of new frameworks to improve partnership working with the NHS and third sector partners to ensure support hubs deliver the best outcomes.
Funding for SEND
- Councils are committed to providing children and young people with SEND with the support they need to thrive, and not just get by. However, councils and their partners continue to face significant challenges in supporting the growing number children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), which the LGA and councils have long raised with Government.
- The number of children and young people with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) has risen year on year for the past decade, with an 11 per cent rise in 2020/21 alone, while funding has until recently stagnated. Councils have consistently overspent their allocated budgets for children with SEND (the high needs block), and despite this have still struggled to meet the need for support.
- Meanwhile, schools have also faced rising demand but without the resources to match. Many children and young people have special educational needs, but fall below the threshold required for an EHC plan. For pupils without an EHC Plan, the funding for any additional support they need has to be met within mainstream school budgets. Given the wider pressures on school finances, this means that many schools are unable to deliver the additional support that children need to attend a mainstream setting. It is therefore vital that all parts of the system are resourced, to all ensure children including those without EHC plans are provided with the support they need, when they need it.
- We are pleased that the Government has recognised some of these challenges, with the allocation of over £2.4 billion in additional high needs funding to councils for 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 in the last Spending Review. Going forward, it is vital that councils have long-term certainty over funding to support children with SEND. We are also calling for the Department to work with councils to eliminate high needs block deficits, to secure the future sustainability of services.
- We also welcome the £2.6 billion for school places for children with SEND that was announced in the recent Spending Review. This will help to create more, much-needed, specialist places and reduce the number of pupils having to travel long distances to specialist provision, at great expense to councils. We are keen to work with the Department to create new places quickly and identify opportunities to accelerate this process.
The SEND Review
- The LGA welcomed DfE’s review of the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) system. While it is disappointing that the publication of the review has been delayed, we recognise the importance of getting the reforms right.
- It is vital that the SEND Review delivers a reformed and sustainable system that can meet the needs of all children with SEND and their families. It must also bring forward measures that support inclusion in mainstream schools, so that schools reflect the make-up of communities they serve and pupils with SEND have the support they need to thrive in these settings.
- To achieve this, the Review needs to deliver much clearer local accountability for educational outcomes for all children within a geographical area. Councils have a responsibility to ensure support for children and young people with (SEND) who are in need of Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans, however these must be delivered in partnership. We are clear that councils, with the right powers and resources, are ideally placed to hold both health and education partners to account for the decisions that they are taking to support children and young people with EHC plans.
- Health has a key role to play in supporting children and young people with SEND to live well and achieve the best possible outcomes. However feedback from councils highlights that there are issues around the effective participation of health partners in SEND provision. It is vital that this is addressed as part of the Review and we’re keen to explore mechanisms to ensure all Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) can to play an active part in SEND systems.
- Any major reforms introduced through the Review will require primary legislation and will take a number of years to implement. In the meantime, it will be necessary to develop interim solutions that ensure children with SEND have their support needs met.