The CAMHS Service in Cornwall and why it must improve

CAMHS or to give its full title, Children and Adolescence Mental Health Service is an extremely valuable service. CAMHS exists to promote the mental health and emotional wellbeing of children and young people and the prevention and early intervention of mental health issues. There are four tiers to CAMHS and they are:

  • Tier 1: consists of school nurses, youth workers, teachers, GPs and health visitors
  • Tier 2: consists of specialised Primary Mental Health Workers (PMHW’s), educational psychologists, counsellors and social workers
  • Tier 3: consist of clinicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, mental health practitioners
  • Tier 4: consists usually of specialised inpatient units

However, since taking on the responsibility as Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People, I have been concerned with the provision of the CAMHS service. From evidence going back to 2008 there has been a lack of demonstrable improvement in the whole service. This has been backed up by inspections and two critical reports. I do acknowledge CAHMS is a complex area, with a greater demand on the service, and nationally there are similar issues like those faced in Cornwall, but for me more has to be done to improve this service. It was not only I who had concerns, as the feedback I was getting from many sources which included schools, young people, practitioners and clinicians raised similar concern too. So when this many people are telling me the service provision is patchy, not delivering and young people not getting assessed quickly, then I have to look into this to see if the concerns are true.

I was also frustrated with the lack of data and more concerning, a clear and up to date strategy to deal with the many issues surrounding CAMHS. You just cannot commission services properly without a clear strategy on how you are going to provide services, and you cannot have a strategy without good data.

So to address the issues I had, I asked the Council’s Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee – who has statutory functions – to investigate my concerns. One of the powers the committee has is to convene a select committee. This is like those select committees in Parliament like the banking and the Murdoch hearing. This formate would then fully investigate the issues I had raised.

This select committee was established and a two-day hearing was held to gather views and information from service commissioners, schools, users, voluntary sector, officers of the Council and health agencies. The committee asked tough and searching questions to those who gave evidence, and I myself was grilled for over an hour on the provision by the Council.

The Scrutiny then collated all this evidence into a report. The full Scrutiny report can be found HERE.

This is an excellent report which gets to the bottom to the many of the issues in Cornwall’s CAMHS service. In many places of the report it is not an easy read, and many areas is critical. There is no point in asking for something to be investigated if you only want to put a sticky plaster over the cracks. To solve issues you need to fill in those cracks, and the only way to do this is to deliver a hard-hitting report highlighting those cracks.

However, it is easy to point finger of blame, but this solves nothing. And this is certainly what the report is about. This report is about solving these long running issues in the CAMHS service. From this report all agencies and organisations involved in CAMHS must acknowledge the report, but more importantly, start to address those action points contained within the report.

There is no point in looking back; we must look forward if we want to have the best CAHMS service. This looking forward approach has already begun as speaking to our other partners and organisations, there is a will to all work together and address the issue contained in the report. It is not going to be an easy task, but if the will is there, then we will succeed – together. Failure not to address the issues in the report is not an option, as failure will fail our young people who need this service.

I will finish by congratulating the Health and Social Care Committee and those members who formed the select committee. I will also give my thanks to all those who took part in the two-day hearing either in person and/or submitted evidence. I know it was a tough process.

Further information on the CAMHS can be found HERE and Cornwall Council’s Family Information Service HERE. There is also this excellent website from Invictus Trust which offers guidance and advice. This can be found HERE

Good news for Cornwall and Children’s Mental Health

I am very pleased to say Cornwall has been chosen as one of 12 partnerships across the country to develop a project that will help equip young people aged between 10 and 14 years to deal better with difficult circumstances in their lives to help prevent them experiencing common mental health.

Research carried out by the Big Lottery Fund using a panel of young people to help find out what projects they would like to see National Lottery good causes money spent on highlighted mental health issues as one of the key concerns of this age group.

The survey carried out by the panel revealed the top issues affecting young people are exams and tests (57 per cent) and family problems such as parents losing their job, splitting up or arguing (31 per cent).

A YouGov survey of over 700 children, also aged between 10-14, also discovered that:

  • More than one-in-five (21 per cent) have avoided socialising with friends because they were stressed or worried.
  • 75 per cent of children aged 10-14 think that a healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body.
  • A quarter are already worrying about choosing a future career.

The Big Lottery programme will enable Cornwall to bid for £500,000 to develop a partnership approach to improving the resilience and lives of young people by working in four key areas:

  • childs time and experiences at school
  • their ability to access the community services they need
  • their home life and relationship with family members
  • their interaction with digital technology.

This is fantastic news for Cornwall, as good mental health & emotional wellbeing is something Cornwall Children’s Trust Board has already recognised as a priority for improving outcomes for children & young people. This additional funding from the Big Lottery will enable us to develop preventative approaches that will build resilience in our young people. It will help them to build self-esteem, a positive self-image & develop the confidence to deal with knocks & set backs in life we sometimes take for granted.

Raising Aspiration and Achievement in Cornwall

Since I have been in my post as Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People, one of the primary aims of the Directorate – and therefore the Council – is to raise the aspiration and achievement of our children and young people in Cornwall. I believe that all our children and young people are entitled to the best possible life chances. This can be achieved by enhancing their access to the highest quality educational opportunities, underpinned by challenging aspirations to not just their expect potential, but beyond.

The Raising Aspiration and Achievement Strategy (RAAS) will ensure that high aspiration for all children and young people are shared with families, and across all strands of education from Early Years to Primary and Secondary Schools and Further and Higher Education institutions. This includes high quality and impartial Information, Advice and Guidance. Which is very good in some areas, but not across the board. 

Put simply; raising aspiration and achievement is everybody’s business.

The strategy focuses on a small number of specific priority areas where we are underperforming and aims to drive up standards so that Cornwall’s performance is not merely average, or below average. I believe  it is not good enough to aspire to just being average.

These priorities (in brief) are:

  • High aspiration for all children and young people, particularly the most able
  • Attainment and progress of boys particularly in the secondary phase
  • closing the cap for vulnerable groups
  • school organisation and sustainability for schools

In some Key Stage areas, Cornwall is ‘on target’ in some of the key stages. For Key Stage 1 and 2 is at or just above the national average for 2013. In Key Stage 4 there is a trend of improvement from 2012 when 55.4% (national average 59.4%) of students achieved 5 + A-C including maths and English to 59.3% in 2013 (national average 58.6%).  This is an improvement of 4% and near 1% above the national average. But as I have said before, we should not aspire to be average. But this improvement should be welcomed.

The gender gap is a real area of concern. Whilst girls have achieved at or above the national average, boys performance is of greater concern as they advance through their educational life.

  • Key Stage 4 – 5+ A* – C  (including English and Maths): Girls – 64.9% –  Boys – 72%
  • Higher Educational Degree (2011/12): Girls – 57% – Boys – 43%

The gap for those young people on Job Seekers Allowance is stark (under 25 – As of Feb 2013): Girls – 940 – Boys 1930

This is why the RAAS is important to raising aspirations and achievement in our children and young people. However, this is just the start, as any strategy is just a document. it is what you do with that document that counts. For the RAAS to be successful  it will need everyone working together throughout the educational stages  if we want to give our children and young people the best possible start educationally. By doing this it enable our children and young people to fulfil their full potential.

Cornwall’s Children Care Social Services out of intervention

Cornwall Council has been told by the Government Children’s Minister that the councils children care social services has been officially removed from Government intervention. The council was placed in intervention back in 2009 after inspectors found many failings in the service.


Massive congratulations should go to all staff who have worked extremely hard in achieving both a positive OFSTED inspection and now being officially removed from intervention. It has been a long and sometimes painful journey, but I am glad this hard work has been rewarded.

Well done

Bulwarks soon to be new Play Park

Finally after two years of fundraising by the residents of Bulwark (and surrounding roads) the residents had the chance to pick their preferred park.  Two proposals out of the seven who submitted bids were put to the residents of the area to pick the favoured park. This event before took place last week at the Helston Children’s Centre.

Both the final two bids were great, so it was always going to be difficult to pick a winner. And a winner was selected by the residents voting for their favourite plan. It was great to see seventy-one adults and children turn up and vote. It was close, with the winning bid from Proludic having 39 votes, with the runner-up Hags having 32 votes.

The equipment will be ordered very soon, and as soon as the equipment arrives work will start on the new park. Thanks should go to Cornwall Council’s  procurement team, Cormac and the environment dept for helping the residents in the process. Of course none of this would have been possible without the fundraising from the residents and grant funding from SITA, Helston TC and the Downsland Trust.

The artists impression of the park with the selected equipment:

The new park


Porthleven School’s New Playground

This morning I was invited to Porthleven School to help unveil the new children’s playground. This is a fantastic addition to the school. What is really impressive, is all this money came from fundraising led by the school’s PTA. The fundraising started in September 2011 and in a short period the PTA raised nearly £12,000, with £9,000 of that money being spent on the play equipment.

This money came from businesses in Porthleven including £2000 from the Harbour and Dock Company, Porthleven’s Surf Club – £1,000, my Cornwall Councillor fund – £500, with the rest coming from fundraising activities. It is great to see such a strong and dynamic PTA who are always coming up with new and ‘interesting’ ways of fund-raising for the school.

Porthleven’s PTA can be rightly proud of their achievements, and with the team they have, nothing will stop them from making the school better for the children and families. Well Done!

The new play equipment at Porthleven School



Cornwall Council to Help Cornish Students

The cost of a person going on to Higher Education has always been a factor. In the past it was far easier to afford, but with the Government allowing Universities to triple tuition fees, this has made attending a University unaffordable to many families.

This issue has been raised by Cornwall Council’s Children’s Education and Families Scrutiny Committee (CSF OSC), and the Cabinet of Cornwall Council has also been well aware of the problem. The council has started to address this by making money available for travelling cost for students.

Now, the council is taking a further step (and a big step it is) in the right direction in addressing the issue of making more affordable. The council is proposing to introduce a scheme which could,  if approved, start in 2014. Initially £1m will come from existing resources to support the scheme in the first year, rising to £3m in 2016 / 2017. I am told the council is looking at funding sources post 2017.

So how will the scheme work? Well, for a start,  you need to be a resident of Cornwall for three years to qualify. If you meet the criteria, a pre paid card will be supplied which they can use to pay for an agreed range of goods and services that support the costs of learning and the hidden costs of studying at university. The amount of the payment has still to be confirmed,, but the current recommendation is for this to be set at £30. This can be topped up by parents, guardians and other family members. To be honest, whilst an one-off payment of £30 is nice, it is hardly going to make going to University more affordable. I feel it is a token gesture.

However, the real good news is students with a household income up to £42,600 can also apply for additional financial support from two further strands of funding. Both these areas of funding are discretionary and will be subject to several specific criteria, which includes the type of course to be studied (there will be a strong focus on economic priority subjects) and place of study, with funding specifically targeted towards students applying for the more selective universities and courses.

The two additional discretionary strands are:

  • Widening Participation – open to any student attending a non Sutton Trust 30 institution who meets the eligibility criteria. Eligible students will be able to apply for up to £1,200 per student living away from home (£900 per student living at home) over three years.
  • Raising Aspiration – open to any student attending a Sutton Trust 30 institution, who meets the eligibility criteria. Eligible students will be able to apply for £3,000 over three years.

I feel these two schemes will really make a difference in helping attending University more affordable. Of course it will not cover all the costs, but it will take the pressure off families who may struggle to find the extra money to help their children attend a University.

The proposed scheme will be discussed by members of the Council’s Children, Education and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee (which I am a member of) on 13th July. Their views will then be reported to the Council’s Cabinet which will make the final decision. If approved (no doubt it will be) it is expected to support up to 4,000 students per year. Mature students will also qualify for these schemes which is a sensible step too.

So well done Cornwall Council in taking the lead in trying to solve this problem. Maybe other authorities will copy Cornwall Council, so other students in other areas will find attending University more affordable.

Numbers of School Children in Cornwall

Statistics are not everyone’s cup of tea; so those who hate them look away now. The following statistics are on the numbers of children currently attending school within Cornwall. Also included in the figures are the number of children who are receiving free school meal, ethnicity and the number of children from service families. These has been collated as part of the Single Issue Panel looking into children’s readiness for school that I am a member of.

The total number of children between the in both primary school and secondary school is: 69,293

Primary School: 37644
Secondary: Age 11-15: 28471 – Ages 16-19: 3178 – Total 31,649

In receipt of free school meals: Primary: 5328 (14.15% of pupils); Secondary 3431 (10.84%)

Black and Ethnic Minority: Primary: 1922 (5.1%); Secondary: 1323 (4.2%)

Children from service families: Primary 1026 (2.7%); Secondary: 753 (2.4%)

Gypsy: Primary 85 (0.2%); Secondary 59 (0,2%)

A more detailed breakdown on the statistics can be found HERE.

Scrutinising the Cornish Bursary

The chance for Councillors of Cornwall Council to ask questions on the proposals for a Cornish Bursary took place today. Members of the OSC were requested to submit any questions prior to this meeting. This was to make sure detailed answers were provided. This did not mean further questions could not be asked. As many more were.

As I have said before, I think any scheme that helps young adults to stay in education is to be welcomed. Even with a good scheme, the job of the OSC is to make sure that scheme is fit for purpose, and if there are any doubts, these should be addressed before the scheme is implemented.

Many questions were asked included why Cornwall Council was only going to fund Level 3 courses (A-Levels, NVQ Level 3, BTEC etc). This is because the Government is providing £6m to cover Level 2 and under course. The Council felt this money would be better targeted in another area. In principle I can agree with this view, but my worry would be if any children miss out on level 2 course because there is not enough money from government.

The two questions I asked were on where this money for the first year was coming from, and how this scheme would be funded after the initial two year period. The first question was answered. It turns out there is some surplus in Convergence Money (skills funding agency). The council has checked to see the legal position on how this money could be spent. It turns out this surplus can be used for this scheme. Again, I welcome this.

The second question however did not have such a great answer. In fact, the answer got me quite angry and disappointed. You see, no money has been identified post the two year period. In a rather simplistic answer was ‘it would be the new councils problem.’ That point of the answer was the most upsetting. No matter how good a scheme it is let down by the simple fact of no, or very limited forward planning for funding!

Words of we will investigate areas of funding is hardly reassuring. If this scheme is such a good idea, then work now, before implementation, should be carried out; or at least highlighting possible areas of funding. This sadly was not the case.

After over two hours of debate with some very good point being made, as set of recommendations was made, and voted on.

  1. The Children, Education and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee (CEFOSC) should endorse the proposal for the Cornwall Bursary and its implementation in 2012/13
  2. A review of should the bursary include those studying Level 2 qualifications
  3. Request a written report/questionnaire to be provided at the end of the year on how the money has been used and the impact of the scheme.
  4. The OSC will see the eligibility criteria of each provider
  5. Review of the education provision of the 14-19 offer in North and SE Cornwall
  6. On going review of the funds and report back to the OSC after the first academic term
  7. Director of CSF to investigate other forms of funding for those who fall into the trap of the Cornwall/Devon border.

I voted in favour of this scheme because it is a very good idea. Yes, there are some issues, the biggest being the future funding, but with the OSC chasing up this issue I am happy something will be done about it.

The Government has failed to provide adequate provision for a bursary/EMA, so it is left to the council to pick up this. If not, many young adults will not be in the financial position to further their education.

Cornwall Council should be congratulated for taking the lead, and no doubt other authorities will follow Cornwall Council’s lead.

The Cornish Bursary

This Friday, the Children’s Schools and Families Scrutiny Committee (CSF) will discuss the idea of a Cornish Bursary to in parts replace the now reduced Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). Before the current coalition government brutally cut the existing scheme, Cornish students received £6.8m per year in EMA funding. Now, post the cut, this same fund equates to roughly £1.3m.

You don’t have to be a maths student to realise there is still a massive short-fall of £5.5m. Cornwall Council, Well, in truth the Cabinet have agreed a sum of £700,000 per year from 2012/13 to top up the government scheme. This funding will be available for those aged between 16-19 years old. The principle of this council bursary is supporting those most in need.  These include:

1. Young people resident in Cornwall aged 16 – 19 (Students aged under 19 on 31/08/12)
2. Studying a Level 3 Qualification (excluding Work Based Learning)
3. Should not be in receipt of the 16 – 19 Bursary (Government one) as one of the Guaranteed Learners:

• Currently in care
• Leaving care / recently left care
• In receipt of income support in their own name
• Are disabled & in receipt of both Employment Support Allowance & Disability Living Allowance

With any remaining funds, providers may then use their discretion to make awards to young people in ways that best fit the needs and circumstances of their students. Bursary awards should be targeted towards young people facing financial barriers to participation, such as the costs of transport, meals, books and equipment.

The Terms and Conditions of the Cornish Bursary can be found HERE. Also in the document are the authorised schools/colleges and the type of course you need to take to qualify.

On face value the scheme looks like a good idea. However, the money for this bursary has only been secured for two years from 2012/13 to 2013/14. What happens after this? How will the bursary be funded to carry on the potentially  good work in helping educating our children. This is my greatest worry.

It is all well and good starting something that will help, but if this has to stop only a few years later than there is a problem. At Fridays meeting I will be asking how this bursary will be funding post 2014.  And if this money is identified will any other service, or project lose out to continue the bursary.

My guess, and I have heard one or two rumours is the bursary will be funded from the money received from the solar panels Cornwall Council is having fitted to various buildings. Then again, this might not happen if the government slashes the FiT for these smaller projects.

Maybe, if the coalition government (and I blame both sides in it) did not cut the EMA, then Cornwall Council, and most probably many other authorities, would not have to make the hard choice of funding a bursary scheme at the expense of other services/projects.

Roll on Friday….



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