Children living in Dales to receive bespoke mental health support amid fears they are left behind

The mental health of children in one of Yorkshire’s most rural areas is set for a funding boost as a charity leader warned young people are regularly facing 80-mile round trips to access vital support.

SELFA, based in Craven in the Yorkshire Dales, was set up by Emma Pears following her daughter’s own experience with mental health problems, which started when she was eight.

The charity provides support to parents and children who are experiencing mental health issues and an £85,000 grant investment will now see peer support groups set up across the district.

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Children in rural areas like Craven are more at risk of being sent long distances for appointments, Ms Pears said, as well as not being able to access specialist support at school.

Children supported by SELFA in the DalesChildren supported by SELFA in the Dales
Children supported by SELFA in the Dales

The situation is especially acute for children with autism, or who identify as LGBTQ, she said.

Ms Pears said: “Children and young people don’t get the support they need, particularly in a rural community.

“In the countryside they can’t access play therapy, or music therapy.

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“A boy based in Bentham has an absolute horror story. His parents were expected to do 80 mile round trips. One time, it took his mum five hours to get a mental health prescription as they wouldn’t dispense it from the local pharmacy.

“Why can’t the pharmacy dispense the prescription and why can’t a worker from the NHS come up to his doctors?

“You might be offered an online appointment but because we’re in North Yorkshire but the NHS trust is West Yorkshire, there’s a lot of joining up to do there as well.”

Ms Pears has recently completed a study in mental health provision in Craven.

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She said: “One parent told me “We’ve waited ages for a [mental health] referral to come through, when we were finally accepted there are no staff in this area, so we were offered a video call appointment or a phone call for my 9-year-old”.

“This was a story I heard many times, with some children in rural areas not receiving a mental health service at all because they couldn’t travel.

“Another member of the LGBTQ+ community who is 14 years old was self-harming and experiencing suicidal thoughts.

“When they were accepted by services to receive mental health support they had to travel from their small rural village into Keighley (a town 30 miles away) and miss a whole school day to receive the support they needed. This young person now has difficulty with attendance at school.”

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In particular, short-term interventions without a clear exit strategy were criticised by parents and children alike, with one young person quoted in the report quoted saying “if I get help it’s only for a few weeks but I’ve had these problems for years and they aren’t going to go away after I’ve finished the programme.”

The new peer support group set up with funding will see up to 12 parents in Bentham and Settle able to connect and share experiences with each other, with hopes that the scheme will be extended to Skipton and Grassington.

Ms Pears also hopes to set up an annual convention for mental health experts to meet in the Dales.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​