Family walking a dog


Children’s mental health

Our vision is a world where every child has access to the things they need to be healthy, feel safe, and reach their potential.

Our approach to Children’s Mental Health

Our vision is a world where every child can thrive because all their needs are met. This means, for example, families having a safe, warm home, enough money for nutritious food, and the time and space to foster caring relationships. But right now, some children don’t have these things.  

When these needs aren’t met children may experience distress that causes poor mental health. If this happens, every child should be able to access safe, timely, effective help. 

Together with our community partners we aim to influence decision-makers to improve the conditions children grow up in so that every child has access to the things they need to be healthy and happy. We work closely with local people and organisations who are trusted by their communities to develop impactful ways of improving children’s mental health. 

View our latest research

The problem: Poverty causes distress and mental health challenges for children

Every child should have access to the things they need to be healthy, feel safe, and reach their potential. But right now millions of children and families are trapped in poverty – often made worse by racism – making it almost impossible to be physically and mentally healthy.  

“We trap people in a diagnosis and system, and we lie to them – we tell people at the age of 12 they have a diagnosis that it is biological and therefore difficult to change. So much of this stuff is down to the environment people are in and what they have experienced.” (Psychologist from our report with Centre for Mental Health)  

“[It would be easier] if we could all have our own space we could go to, where we could actually shut the door. Because if we shut the door here, it gets too damp. So a place we can lock the doors and like shut the world out. If that makes sense.” (Child from our family ethnography No Timeouts) 

When a family has to live in a cramped and mouldy home, or low-paid unstable work means they can’t put good food on the table, this affects every aspect of their life. Children may find it difficult to sleep so are always tired. They may find it hard to concentrate and regulate their emotions so can get into trouble at school. They may not have space for play or for quiet time when they feel overwhelmed, so levels of stress build up. All these things have a huge impact on their mental health. 

“We recently worked with a 10-year-old girl with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder who was throwing things out of her bedroom window – she was sent to Divert [a criminal justice service] through the youth justice process because of her behaviour. When we asked her why she was throwing things out of her window it became clear it was a cry for help because her room was damp, mouldy, with mice running around. No authority dealt with the housing issues that were driving her to behave that way until she came to us via the criminal justice system.” (Case worker from our report with Centre for Mental Health) 

Not only do experiences like chronic poverty or racism impact children’s mental health, but if children need to access support poverty and racism also make it harder to get that help. Families with more money are often able to access specialist support quickly and in a more personalised way – the kind of timely, effective care that is not available to other children. They are less likely to experience the judgement and discrimination that less wealthy and/or racially marginalised parents, who do not always feel safe accessing the limited support that is available.

“They basically said they don’t have enough staff, so she can’t come in [to specialist daycare] today and I asked why, and they said something about they only have space for the parents that work and pay them.” (Parent from our Black Child SEND report)

“You know, when you’re in meetings and people are like ‘I don’t want to take on a child because their parent is difficult’ and it’s not a difficult parent, it’s just an ethnic parent being as expressive as a white parent” (Social worker from our report with Centre for Mental Health) 

Our Priorities: What we and our partners are doing about it 

1. Support in communities 

We fund partners to deliver support to children and families in distress – prioritising those most acutely affected by poverty and racism.

2. Policy change

We work in coalition with others to call on the government to set ambitious goals to end child poverty.  

3. Changing the conversation 

We want to change the conversation so that as a sector and as a society we focus on the root causes of children’s suffering – switching the focus from blaming children and their parents to tackling poverty and racism.  

Parent putting on the shoes of her child.

This area of work used to be referred to as the Adolescent Mental Health Programme but is now the Children’s Mental Health Programme, to better reflect our focus on early intervention.

Kamna Muralidharan

Have questions on our children's mental health programme?

Kamna leads our programme, identifying the programme focus and developing its strategic direction

Contact Kamna