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Project providing suicide prevention for care leavers at risk of closing

Council leaders are calling on the government to use the Spring Budget to extend funding for suicide prevention projects.

23/02/24

Project providing suicide prevention for care leavers at risk of closing

The end of funding for suicide prevention projects in April could have “life or death consequences” in some areas, the Local Government Association (LGA) says.

The funding, worth £57 million, has so far helped to provide support for those at risk of suicide, bereaved families and run awareness campaigns in local communities – however, this is set to end at the end of this financial year. There has been no confirmation from the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) to say the funding will continue beyond April this year.

The two London boroughs of Camden and Islington have used some of their suicide prevention funding to provide a dedicated psychotherapy service for young adults leaving care. As part of the programme, tailored support is delivered in community settings through a local voluntary sector partner, the Brandon Centre.

Care-experienced young people, including unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) and refugees, are a particularly vulnerable group with complex health needs – with statistically higher rates of suicide than their peers. Mental health need is very high, with high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma. Despite this, there is limited specialist mental health support for young care leavers.

Adult services have long waiting lists and are often not designed to meet the specific needs of this population, where extra effort is needed to build engagement and trust over a period of time. As a result, care-experienced young people can struggle with the transition. There is a risk of them falling through the gaps when they reach adulthood, at a very vulnerable time in their lives.

Camden and Islington’s suicide prevention funding ended in April 2023. In Camden, Marta Calonge-Contreras, Strategic Commissioning Manager at London Borough of Camden, said it was a matter of “scraping through budgets” and pulling together the money to fund it for another year. Meanwhile, London Borough of Islington found another year’s funding through the health inequalities fund.

“We really don’t want this service to finish in April [2024]. It is addressing a gap for a very high-need and very vulnerable cohort. On top of that, it’s not easy to recruit to a post like this. The Brandon Centre managed to recruit a brilliant and very experienced therapist but she could choose to find another job that provides more security.”

Marta said the ideal scenario would be to have recurrent funding – and potentially to expand the service.

“While we welcome any grant funding, it is always limited. A lot of effort goes into setting up the processes, systems and referral pathways. Grant funding is often just for one year – by the time you have recruited and got things going, the funding ends.”

The work to support suicide prevention among care leavers is just one of many localised projects across the country working with people at risk of suicide and those affected. In Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin, councils introduced a bereavement service for those loved ones who had been affected by suicide. While in Bournemouth, the council has worked with train operators and the British Transport Police in light of a cluster of suicides linked to the railways.

The call for more sustained funding has been echoed across the voluntary sector, which often works in partnership with local authorities on these projects to deliver services.

“People in serious distress cannot afford for local suicide prevention funding to dwindle away,” Julie Bentley, CEO of Samaritans, said.

The LGA, which represents councils across England and Wales, is urging the Government to use the Spring Budget to extend funding for suicide prevention projects.

The LGA said councils are growing concerned about having to stop projects entirely or scale them down significantly.

Cllr David Fothergill, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board said: “This suicide prevention funding has been a lifeline for many people. Councils have used it to provide fantastic support to those in their communities who have needed help the most.

“Without a commitment by the Government to extend this funding, these vital local schemes face an uncertain future which could have life or death consequences for those who rely on them.

“Councils desperately want to be able to keep tackling this issue, update their local suicide prevention plans in line with the new national suicide prevention strategy, and improve the wellbeing of their areas.”

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