What is the Link Programme?

The Link Programme is a national initiative funded by the Department for Education, supported by NHS England and led by the Anna Freud Centre. The programme brings together mental health professionals with schools and colleges with the support of Clinical Commissioning Group leads.

It will support mental health professionals to work with school and college staff across the whole community and will give professionals a shared language to pool local knowledge and plan services together.

The Link Programme will reach every school and college in England over the next four years, identifying children and young people’s needs at an early stage and helping professionals to give them the help and support they need, when they need it.

Link Programme in action: how Salford CCG successfully implemented the programme in their area


What is its aim?

The Link Programme has a simple aim: to bring together mental health and education professionals so that children and young people can get the help they need when they need it.

We know that very often children and young people’s mental health problems first get noticed at school. We also know that working across agencies is complicated. The Link Programme will bring together mental health and education professionals so that they can provide the best support possible for all children and young people in their care.

The Link Programme is designed to develop a shared approach so that professionals across mental health and education can work together, plan together and help children and young people to a clearer pathway to getting the support they need.

How does it work?

The Link Programme brings schools, colleges and mental health services under their local Clinical Commisioning Groups (CCGs).

The Clinical Commissioning Groups organise two one-day workshops which are held about six weeks apart. At these workshops mental health and education professionals get together to share local knowledge and resources. In the weeks between, the professionals use a framework called CASCADE to plan services. In the final workshop the teams identify how they will continue to work together.

How do we know it works?

The Link Programme has been four years in development. It is supported by NHS England and the Department or Education and has been independently evaluated. The pilot successfully ran in 255 schools from 2015-2016. The Link Programme was scaled up with over 1,000 mental health professionals and schools taking part in 2017-2019. It is now being rolled out to every school and college in England.

The independent evaluation found that the Link Programme:

  • Strengthened communication and joint-working between NHS children and young people’s mental health services and schools.
  • Increased satisfaction with working relationships.
  • Improved understanding of mental health services and referral routes.
  • Improved knowledge and awareness of mental health issues among school lead contacts.
  • Improved timeliness and appropriateness of referrals.
How much does it cost?

The training is funded by the Department for Education and is free to all mental health professionals who are invited to attend. The only cost you will have to pay is your travel.

How do I get involved?

You need to contact your CCG. You can do this by clicking on the map on the landing page and sending them an email. Please do not contact the Anna Freud Centre as we will not be able to respond to emails from every mental health professional in England.

The Link Programme is a major national initiative and will be rolled out over four years from September 2019 so it will be phased. Trailblazer sites will be prioritised and after that CCGs will apply to take part. Once they’ve applied they will contact mental health services in their area with details of the programme.


We have created a range of resources (released in September 2019) which will give you all the information about the programme you need including our animation introducing the Link Programme.

Below you will find more detail about the programme including:

  • An independent evaluation of the successful pilot of the Link Programme involving almost 1,000 education and mental health professionals across 27 CCGs. The findings showed significant improvements in joint working between schools and children and young people's mental health services
  • Mental Health Services and Schools Link Pilot: workshop findings and feedback. This includes an internal review of the Link Programme
  • A guide to the CASCADE Framework, which is used in workshops to help partners work together
  • Putting the CASCADE Framework into Practice, which gives examples from three of the areas which have taken part
  • Mental Health Services and Schools and Colleges Link Programme 2017-19: Final report to the Department for Education. The report we submitted to the DfE following completion of phase 2 of the programme.

These documents (released in September 2019) should provide you all you need to know about the Link Programme. Once you have signed up to the programme we will send you a toolkit which outlines in detail how to recruit for and run the workshops.

We will support you throughout the Link Programme. If you have any other questions, please get in touch with us at linkprogramme@annafreud.org.


Back to The Link Programme Back to Research and Practice

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