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College principal urges people to weigh in on debate over mental health support for children

PUBLISHED: 11:00 27 January 2018 | UPDATED: 11:57 27 January 2018

Stuart Rimmer, principal Yarmouth College

Stuart Rimmer, principal Yarmouth College

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The principal of a Norfolk and Suffolk college is to have a hand in shaping policy on mental health support for young people.

East Coast College principal Stuart Rimmer. Picture: Nick Butcher East Coast College principal Stuart Rimmer. Picture: Nick Butcher

And Stuart Rimmer, principal at East Coast College, which has campuses in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, has urged others to have their say on the government green paper, which aims to speed up help for children and young adults.

While a green paper does not commit the government to action, it is often the first step towards changing the law and precedes a white paper, a more formal policy statement.

On Tuesday, Mr Rimmer, a prominent figure in the Association of Colleges, will go before the committee to help shape its content and progress.

He said: “We are seeing year-on-year rises in more low-level mental health concerns, such as low-level depression, anxiety and social anxiety.

“Colleges have become much better at training staff to have that awareness, and while that doesn’t cause problems, it certainly sheds light on them.”

MORE: ‘What price do we have to pay?’ Call to arms to secure better mental health help for pupils as problems soar

He said, to date, the college has had more than 600 events of safeguarding or mental health concerns reported, including anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation.

But it has become recognised as a national leader in mental health support in further education, with several initiatives aimed at supporting students.

In October, the college led a summit on the subject, which experts from around the world attended.

Mr Rimmer said, with long waits for assessments and a national shortage of beds, it was becoming more common for problems to be dealt with in schools and colleges.

“We are picking up on the impact of cuts to other services,” he said, “including voluntary groups and police. Local services do not have the capacity, so we take it on and pay for counselling sessions until support is provided, for example.”

One suggestion he plans to put forward, he said, is clinical practitioners operating from schools and colleges.

But, he said the priority was to engage people in the consultation on the green paper - which is open to everyone.

• To have your say in the consultation, which closes on March 2, click here.

Stability is key

Mr Rimmer hopes an age change in the cut-off point for children being transferred to adult support could offer young people more stability.

He said he had long been campaigning to see a change in the age range of the country’s various Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Currently, children are supported until they are 18, but Mr Rimmer said the disruption of a change in service at that age could be particularly destabilising.

Instead, he said he’d like to see the cut-off, at which children are moved into adult mental health services, increased by six years.

“If you think of a person in their life journey, 18 is not the right time to then push them into adult mental health services,” he said.

“If a young person is working with a case worker or psychologist, the disruption at that age is the last thing they need.

“Changing that to 24 would make it a much more stable process.”

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