Legislation and guidance
In England and Wales, the Mental Health Act (MHA) 1983 covers the assessment, treatment and rights of people with a mental health condition. It applies to all children and young people under the age of 18. The Act allows for people to be detained in hospital if they need treatment for a mental health condition. It gives children the right to appeal against detention.
The Mental Health Act 1983 was amended by the Mental Health Act 2007. This strengthened safeguards for children, for example adding a duty to ensure an age-appropriate environment for children and young people.
In Northern Ireland, the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 is the main mental health legislation which applies to children and young people under 18. It covers the assessment, treatment and rights of people with mental health conditions.
In Scotland, the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 applies to all those with a 'mental disorder', including children and young people. It contains specific safeguards for under 18s regarding mental health treatment, including on named persons, promoting wellbeing and the welfare of children.
The Mental Health (Scotland) Act 2015 amended the provisions relating to children and young people in the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003, including providing services and accommodation for mothers.
In England, the Department of Health and Social Care is developing a Major Conditions Strategy that will focus on whole-person care and ensure mental health conditions are considered alongside physical health conditions (Department of Health and Social Care, 2023; Garratt, 2023).
In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health has published a mental health strategy for 2021-2031. This sets out actions under three overarching themes:
- promoting mental wellbeing, resilience and good mental health across society
- providing the right support at the right time
- new ways of working.
It also includes actions to improve child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) (Department of Health, 2021a).
The Department of Health has also published a Mental Health Action Plan, which is comprised of 38 actions (Department of Health, 2021b).
In Scotland, the government has produced a framework for community mental health and wellbeing supports and services, which sets out an approach for the mental health and wellbeing support children and young people should be able to access in their community (Scottish Government, 2021).
In Wales, the government last published a strategy for mental health and wellbeing (PDF) in 2012. This covers children and young people as well as adults (Welsh Government, 2012). Consultation on the next strategy is expected to begin at the end of 2023 (Welsh Government, 2023).
In England, the Department for Education (DfE)’s statutory guidance for schools highlights that child mental health problems may be an indicator that a child has experienced abuse or neglect. The guidance includes information on how schools and colleges should support children and young people’s mental health (Department for Education, 2023).
The statutory guidance for schools in England on relationships, sex and health education includes guidance on how primary and secondary schools should teach children and young people about mental health and wellbeing (DfE, 2020).
The DfE has also published guidance for school staff on supporting children and young people whose mental health problems manifest in their behaviour. It emphasises the importance of a whole-school approach to mental health and gives guidance on risk and protective factors, identifying children that might need support and working with other agencies (DfE, 2018).
The PSHE Association has published guidance for teachers on teaching mental health and emotional wellbeing. The guidance covers creating a safe environment to talk about mental health and wellbeing, safeguarding children and young people, signposting sources of support and building teaching about mental health and wellbeing into the curriculum (PSHE Association, 2021).
Public Health England (PHE) has published guidance on promoting children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing in schools and colleges. This sets out eight principles for protecting and promoting young people’s emotional health and wellbeing. (PHE, 2021).
In Northern Ireland, the Department of Education has published an emotional health and wellbeing in education framework, which provides guidance for education settings on supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. It highlights that children in care and those who have experience abuse or other adverse childhood experiences might be more vulnerable to mental health problems (Department of Education, 2021).
In Scotland, the government has published guidance on Access to counselling in secondary schools. This provides a framework on developing access to counsellors within schools for education authorities (Scottish Government, 2020a).
In Wales, the government has published a Framework on embedding a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing for schools, pupil referral units and educational settings. The framework sets out how to develop plans to identify and address weaknesses and build on strengths. It also looks at how to evaluate whether the measures put in place meet the emotional and mental health needs of children and young people (Welsh Government, 2021).
The National Autistic Society and Mind have produced a free good practice guide to help professionals in the UK adapt talking therapies for autistic adults and children (National Autistic Society and Mind, 2021).
In England, PHE provides guidance on Improving the mental health of children and young people. This describes the importance of children’s mental health and summarises what works in improving their mental health (PHE, 2016).
PHE also produced guidance for health commissioners and professionals on Measuring the mental wellbeing of children and young people (PHE, 2015).
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has published a framework for Improving the mental health of babies, children and young people (DHSC, 2024). This framework aims to support organisations and professionals involved in promoting child mental health.
In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health has published guidance on risk assessment and management in mental health and learning disability services. This includes information about assessing whether a person might be a risk to themselves or others (Department of Health, 2012).
The Guidelines and Audit Implementation Network (GAIN) has published Guidelines on the use of the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 (PDF) (GAIN, 2011).
In Scotland, the government has produced guidance on the mental health and wellbeing of disabled children, young people and their families (Scottish Government, 2019).
It has also provided a CAMHS national service specification, outlining the available CAMHS provisions for young people and their families (Scottish Government, 2020b).
NHS Education for Scotland has produced an Early intervention framework for children and young people’s mental health and mental wellbeing. The framework enables practitioners to compare different evidence-based prevention and early intervention approaches that have been designed to improve children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing (NHS Education for Scotland, 2020).
In Wales, the government has published non-statutory guidance on Collaborative working between CAMHS and the counselling service. This outlines how services are organised and includes case studies on collaborative working (Welsh Government, 2016).