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Thousands of staff working with children and young people to be trained in mental health

A new pilot commissioned by Health Education England and co-delivered by the Anna Freud Centre will train thousands of staff, from family and youth workers to sports coaches and librarians, to help them spot the signs that a child or young person might require support with their mental health.

With rising demand for mental health support among children, young people and their families in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has never been more important for people in public-facing roles to be aware of when a child needs help and how best to support them.  


That’s why an innovative training programme has been launched by Health Education England to be delivered in partnership with the Anna Freud Centre, the National Children’s Bureau and the Charlie Waller Trust.  


This training will be available to around 10,000 staff across the pilot sites Southampton, Portsmouth, and Norfolk. Subject to the outcome of an evaluation, the ambition is to roll out the training programme nationally, to other parts of the children’s workforce across England.  The broad range of sectors that will receive training includes education, early years and childcare, physical health, library services, sports clubs, justice and crime prevention, youth and social, family and community services.  


Staff will be trained in emotional health, which includes how to speak to children and young people about mental health concerns and what to say, offering support and signposting resources, and where to go for more specialist help. The training will include how to recognise signs of anxiety, low self-esteem and loss of social confidence, providing practical skills on how workers can help and when to ask for more specialist support.  


The format of training will mirror the existing statutory safeguarding framework that the children’s workforce already completes.   


Training is currently being co-designed with children and young people, parents and carers and staff members before it is delivered during a six-month pilot in Southampton, Portsmouth and Norfolk.   


Debi Reilly, Senior Responsible Officer for Mental Health and South West Regional Director at Health Education England, said: “We know more children and young people than ever need mental health support and treatment, so it is vital that we are able to raise awareness and help people spot the early signs that a child is struggling.  


“There is a clear gap in professional development for the children’s workforce, who currently receive no mandatory training in children and young people’s mental health.  


“This pilot aims to improve consistency, so that all workers who come into contact with children receive the same basic training in emotional health, much as we skill everyone in how to safeguard children.  


“It isn’t designed to ask them to do more than they can or should within their role, it’s intended to complement existing skills and help them know what to look for, what to say and where to go for additional help or onward support and care when that’s needed.”    


Professor Peter Fonagy, Chief Executive of the Anna Freud Centre, said:  “We are delighted to support Health Education England with this important pilot project that will help to close the gap in support for children with mental health needs.   


 “The Anna Freud Centre recognises that mental health needs for children and young people are on the rise. We need to support all those people who work with them to talk more confidently about emotional health, offering help where they are the right person to do so, and drawing in more specialist help when it is needed.   


 “It will take all of us, working together across local communities, to start to close the gap in children and young people's mental health and how it is best supported.”  


Wendy Minhinnett, Parent/Carer Lived Experience Lead for The Charlie Waller Trust, said:  “We are thrilled to be one of the partners delivering this ground-breaking pilot for Health Education England. Our experience in training parents, carers, teachers and employers shows that giving them the skills and confidence to spot signs of mental ill health leads to effective first line support for children.   


“As a parent with lived experience of supporting a child with mental health difficulties, I’m delighted to be involved in this programme because it will help families get the support they need, when they need it.  


“We believe the wider children’s workforce is a vast, untapped resource with potential to have a significant positive impact on young people’s mental health.”  


Anna Feuchtwang, CEO of the National Children’s Bureau, said:“We know from research that a large proportion of all lifetime mental illness starts during childhood. So, it follows that the diverse range of adults who work with children have a role in spotting the signs of mental distress early and know how to respond to wellbeing needs.   


“Alongside designated mental health services and family members, these staff are often well placed to recognise mental health problems in babies, children and young people before they escalate, but they may need support to respond effectively. That’s why this project matters and we are delighted to be trialling and evaluating how best to support these staff in order improve child mental health.”  


For more information email or visit the Anna Freud Centre website