The state of children’s mental health services in the UK is not good.  

Despite an extra £60 million invested in specialist services last year, only one in four children and young people with a diagnosable mental health condition is receiving treatment.

And a postcode lottery means far fewer are getting the help they need in some areas.  

Some young people are self-harming to be deemed ill enough to get help.  

According to the latest report from Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, spend per child on specialist services ranges from £14 to £191 between different NHS areas.  

A quarter of areas spend £15 per child on low-level mental health services while a quarter spend £4.   

The NHS target for treating those with a diagnosable mental health condition is just 35 per cent, with an aim of 100 per cent by 2028.  

But Southwark Council has different ideas – it has become the first in the country to aim for 100 per cent by the end of 2020.  

The children’s commissioner’s report highlighted that Southwark is one of four CCG’s in the country where more than 90 per cent of children referred for mental health care actually go on to receive it. 

In fact, it has the highest rate at 93 per cent – nationally more than a third of children who are referred to services are not accepted for treatment. 

Southwark’s cabinet member for children, schools and adult care, Councillor Jasmine Ali, who set the ambitious 100 per cent target last year, branded the NHS’s aim “shameful”.  

“Surely we can do better for our children and young people,” she said. 

When Cllr Ali started her role in 2018 she was shocked by the statistics – only 24 per cent of children with a mental health condition were being treated by CAMHS in Southwark.  

In a health and wellbeing board meeting last November she announced her plan and was met with some skepticism – until they heard the evidence.  

“We had a lot of children and young people give evidence.  

“They gave evidence about what it’s like to have to wait and wait for support.  

“We heard a testimony from a young woman who said she felt she had to compete with self-harming in order to get the attention that she needed.  

“Faced with all of this, even the people who were doubters came behind the proposal and we said we would work together,” Cllr Ali said. 

Southwark has committed £2 million to spend in schools for early intervention, proven to be highly effective in treating mental health conditions.  

Some of the funding will go towards every school having access to mental health first-aiders, learning mentors, play therapists, in-school counselling and a schools-based CAMHS worker. 

Staff will be given specialist training, while it’s hoped every school will have a mental health lead by 2023. 

And even though none of the changes has been implemented yet, the borough’s treatment rate has shot up.  

“We were at 24 per cent and now we’re at 34 per cent – we’ve increased ten per cent without putting any of the reforms that we’ve been working up over the last year in place.  

“That’s massive, we’ve already hit the paltry national health target.” 

The council is also launching an open-access mental health centre for and designed by children and young people in Rye Lane, Peckham this May.  

“Any child from 0 to 25 with a mental health need can come and be seen straight away. 

“They can be held and get wrap around support while they wait for that essential clinical support.  

“We wanted to design something that would feel right for children and young people so we brought them in – they wanted something that was a cross between an Apple store and a Starbucks. 

“They’re actually in the building and picking the fabrics for the furniture,” Cllr Ali said.  

What they want contrasts with the historical view that mental health was something to be hidden. 

“They want it to be very open, they don’t want something where you go downstairs and no one sees you. 

“They want it to be bright, light and open. They want somewhere they can go where they’ll have someone to speak to them and tell them how they can get support. 

“I haven’t got a magic wand, I can’t magic clinicians, but I can work with health so that at least while people are waiting for the clinicians we can get wrap around services,” she added.  

Cllr Ali admitted Southwark has a “long way to go”.  

Its average wait time for treatment is three months and the £2 million for schools is so far a one-off. 

Nationally children account for 20 per cent of the population, but only 10 per cent of total mental health spending. 

In her report the children’s commissioner said: “The Government urgently needs to commit to providing help to all children who need it.  

“If not, far too many children with mental health problems will suffer as children, and then become adults without getting the help they need. And society will still be reaping the cost.” 

The department for health and social care has been contacted for comment.