Digitally-enabled mental health transformation for schools

by Julia Ford

10 July 2019


Julia Ford and David Hewitt reflect on their session at the 2018 Annual conference, as one of the pilot sites for the CAMHs in schools workstreams, they update on their experiences so far.

In an average classroom, three children will be suffering from a diagnosable mental health condition.

Schools have an important role in acting as a source of support and information to pupils, parents and carers.

The CAMHS In School model develops and implements practical support and guidance in schools to promote safe and stable environments for pupils affected directly and indirectly by mental ill health.

Key to the model is the delivery of clinical evidence-based programmes to whole class and year groups, while also facilitating staff training and support sessions. This aims to improve mental health and wellbeing, building resilience and providing early interventions directly within schools.

Children requiring more help should be signposted and referred to the appropriate services. This improves access by making sure they get the right support at the right time by the right service. The model also builds resilience with the wider school population by offering a consultation model, teaching, training, staff support and evidence-based group work such as the internationally-recognised mindfulness programme Paws.b and the social skills Stop Think Do tool.

As with other areas of modern life, digital innovation will play a key role in addressing mental health in schools providing digital access to mental health and wellbeing services for children, young people and their families.

We need to deliver a future where young people and their families are empowered to use technology to revolutionise their care. Providing straightforward digital access to information, signposting, referrals and treatment will help service users and their carers manage their mental health and wellbeing and allow for longer and richer face-to-face consultations with clinicians.

Through digital technology we will need to provide a platform for all, improving accessibility for groups who previously found it challenging accessing help and advice. We need to remodel the referral and assessment functions within children’s and young people’s services and increase the proportion of children with the ability to self-care and self-refer into services. 

This self-referral approach improves recovery and enables a person to seek prompt treatment at an early stage, and it also reduces the likelihood of lower degree problems becoming more severe.

The current CAMHS into Schools service in Stoke on Trent and North Staffordshire has had a very positive impact on pupil behaviour and staff wellbeing – resulting in a significant reduction in the referral rate from schools into the specialist CAMHS team over a two-year period.

Key goals for both the changes to the service model and digital transformation are developing improvements in accessibility to appropriate services and reducing waiting times for children and their families.

In summary, through action on workforce, technology, innovation and efficiency, it is possible to implement services that support a culture focused on recovery and self-management. This will empower children, young people and their families to be able to access the right services at the right time throughout their journey of care.

In addition to this, as part of government’s Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision: A green paper next steps proposals, North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust will be delivering services for two of the 25 national trailblazer sites. This will see it establishing mental health support teams  (in Stoke on Trent and North Staffordshire).

Aligned with the existing digital exemplar programme within the trust, this presents a fantastic opportunity to develop existing best practice and digital innovation to transform existing services. It will also mean we can improve support and collaborative working and change cultures both in Stoke on Trent and North Staffordshire while providing blueprints for others to adopt.