Scottish Borders Council’s new mental health and emotional wellbeing service is now up and running, half a year behind schedule.
The initiative is being questioned by opposition councillors, though, following reports of a six-month gap affecting provision of mental health services.
It was in October 2017 that the council awarded a £1.1m contract to social care charity Quarriers to deliver an emotional health and wellbeing service in the council’s nine secondary schools.
Two months later, the council and integrated joint health board released a statement saying the service would begin in early January, but two weeks ago it was revealed that the service was still not fully functional as schools headed towards the summer break.
Council leader Shona Haslam recently announced that Quarriers would now provide a counsellor for each high school, leading opposition councillors to query where the funding would come from and if they could expect further delays in mental health provision.
At the full council meeting held on Thursday, Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson asked: “Our council leader recently announced that Scottish Borders Council is launching a new initiative to place counsellors in each high school to support health and wellbeing.
“Could the leader provide us with the specific details, including costings and timescales, for this initiative?”
Tweeddale East councillor Mrs Haslam replied: “An additional £1.2m of funding has been allocated to support early intervention and intervention support services for children and young people.
“£150,000 of this funding has been allocated to mental health support in secondary schools to complement the existing work which is taking place as part of the development of our mental health and emotional wellbeing strategy.
“More about this innovative strategy will be explained in a paper to the executive in September.
“Full-time staff have been recruited and have started working and will continue to work with individuals over the summer.
“In this new initiative, staff will be available in a much more flexible way to provide mental and emotional health support to young people and their families at times which suit the families.”
As well as announcing that Quarriers would now provide counsellors for each school, Mrs Haslam also revealed that Borders schoolchildren are to be given mental health first aid training.
The See Me project will see 800 year-six pupils, at all nine of the region’s high schools, given tuition in helping their peers during mental health crises.
This includes being taught to recognise the symptoms of a panic attack and to help those struggling with depression or anxiety.
In a follow-up question, Ms Anderson asked: “It’s still unclear. I’m trying to find out if this new initiative is the same as the Quarriers contract or in addition to that, or in place of it.
“I read in the local press that the £1.1m contract given to Quarriers last October was due to start work in January and, as yet, it still hasn’t started work, so part of my concern is, what is the £1.1m being spent on, who’s in charge of managing that contract, where has the money gone and is this an additional initiative or substitute initiative?”
In response, Mrs Haslam revealed that the mental health and emotional wellbeing strategy was now up and running, saying: “I’m happy to give that clarity. The Quarriers contract is an enhanced contract, so as well as doing everything that we’ve asked them to do, they’re also installing a full-time counsellor at every high school as well in order to enhance that contract.
“In terms of the programme starting, that’s completely untrue. The programme has started. It is working in schools now. The level of service now is higher than it was before Quarriers came into the post.
“It’s a massive change in the way that we’re tackling mental health, and we’re putting so much time and resources into that because it’s a priority for this council, and I think it’s taken a lot longer to get off the ground, but there is more provision now than there was under the previous contract
“We’ve launched two initiatives this week. One is to train every year-six pupil in the Scottish Borders in mental health first aid. The second initiative is the full-time counsellor role, which is an enhanced part of the existing Quarriers contract.”
A council spokesperson confirmed that the Quarriers mental health and emotional wellbeing service is now up and running, six months after it was supposed to commence.
The spokesperson also confirmed that the service to be provided by the additional allocation of £150,000 will be fully operational for the new term in August and additional recruitment is now taking place.