By HELEN CLARK:
DIRECTOR, CHILD MENTAL HEALTH CHARTER CAMPAIGN
LEAD AUTHOR FOR THE ALL PARTY PARLIAMENTARY GROUP ON A FIT AND HEALTHY CHILDHOOD
2022 will see the Government introducing a Bill to reform the 1983 Mental Health Act and this should be a huge opportunity to correct the wrongs of the past by placing children at the centre of the new legislation.
However, the ‘mood music’ is ominous.
The White Paper, published on 21st January 2021 (subsequently the subject of widespread public consultation) far from fulfilling its press-released claim to be a:
‘Landmark reform of mental health laws’
betrays children once again.
Far from continuing the more –child-centric spirit of the previous Green Paper (published in 2017 under Theresa May’s premiership) with its departmentally collaborative impetus, the White Paper’s sole references to children concern proposals to reform the existing law on detention and inpatient care. The mental health portfolio so far as it encompasses children has been decimated and whatever we may think about the merits or otherwise of the various child-centred recommendations in the Green Paper – these are irrelevant.
If they persist at all in 2022 and beyond it will not be via legislation. They have and are proposed to have NO STATUTORY FORCE WHATSOEVER.
However, as we enter a crucial year for Mental Health legislation, those who are unfamiliar with Westminster procedure may think that this is not the case.
But it is already happening.
Following the publication of the White Paper in 2021, The All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood held a briefing Zoom meeting and encouraged everyone who wanted a new Mental Health Act reform to place the needs of children at its heart to respond in writing, making that argument to the White Paper Public Consultation.
Many organisations did so including PTUK. Clearly, this was also the case nationwide, because suddenly a parade of Ministers started talking about intentions to trial some child-centred community treatment and therapeutic measures that had featured in The Green Paper. The Green Paper itself, with its title ‘Transforming Children and Young Peoples’ Mental Health Provision’ popped up obsessively in Ministerial speeches and media interviews; even more so, following ramped-up publicity about the huge regression in children’s mental health as a result of the pandemic. There were high profile mentions of Green Paper recommendations appearing in the NHS Long Term Plan.
The ‘children’s mental health washing’ of the White Paper has worked.
Published articles are beginning to assume that the Green Paper recommendations are (or will be) statutory. Campaigners should therefore bear in mind at all times that:
Green Papers have no legislative status whatsoever. They merely raise Governmental ideas for discussion. There is no guarantee that all or any of these will ever find their way into legislation. That likelihood has been further reduced since 2017 because Theresa May is no longer the Prime Minister.
White Papers, by contrast, are always and by nature, a statement of what a Government intends to DO in forthcoming legislation. In this case, the answer is ‘precious little.’
Child Mental Health Charter campaigners and all registrants should now make 2022 New Year resolution efforts to persuade MPs of all parties to support our proposals for a new Mental Health Act underpinned by the Six Principles of the Charter summarised below (and available in full on the sites):
- Focus on the needs of children
- Protect children
- Invest in a properly qualified workforce
- Ensure policy is informed by the best available and appropriate evidence
- Focus on the needs of parents and carers
- Make policies work: ‘Joined-up working’ would prioritise appropriate data-sharing between all agencies concerned with child welfare.
MAKE IT YOUR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION TO CONTACT YOUR OWN MP TODAY.
ASK THEM WHAT THEY WILL DO NOW TO ENSURE THAT THE NEW MENTAL HEALTH BILL ENSHRINES THE CHARTER PRINCIPLES.
And let me know how you get on by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
HELP US TO HELP CHILDREN