Hutt emphasises need for educational inclusion at Hafal’s spring conference

Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills Minister Jane Hutt AM has spoken of the need for “everyone with a serious mental illness to have access to the things that everyone else has.”

During a wide-ranging speech delivered at the spring conference of Hafal, Wales’ leading charity for people with serious mental illness (SMI) and their carers, Ms. Hutt also spoke of her wish that the children of Wales are empowered both intellectually and emotionally so they develop a “resilience” to help them cope with the stresses of modern life.

Hafal’s conference, which was entitled “We Can Do It!” assembled service users, policy-makers, commissioners and providers of mental health services to explore ways of collaborating to ensure that people with an SMI enjoy equal access to education and training opportunities available to other members of society.

Closing the event Ms. Hutt outlined how this could be achieved in the context of Assembly policy. She began her speech by praising “what has obviously been an excellent day” and stated how both she and her colleagues in Government (including Edwina Hart, Gwenda Thomas and Dr Brian Gibbons) could learn from the many constructive ideas that emerged from the conference.

The Minister then alluded to “Equity, Empowerment, Effectiveness, Efficiency”, the Assembly’s mental health strategy for adults of working age which was published when she was Health Minister in 2001, acknowledging that “all those terms are what we’re talking about today”.
During her speech the Minister then:

• Spoke of the need for “joined-up working” not only within Government but across statutory, voluntary sectors and with employers saying that if educational, training and employment needs are to be met: “There has to be partnership, there has to be collaboration, there has to be funding.”

• Stated that the Assembly Government is trying to build a rights-based education system which will focus not just on the curriculum but on emotional health and that “by doing this it will lessen the likelihood of any future mental health problems.”

• Outlined a “key initiative” of the Assembly, that of independent school counselling for all pupils, a recommendation which came from the Clywch Inquiry.

• Stressed how important it was for learners with a mental health illness to be aware of their funding entitlements as “ensuring our education system is inclusive” will help “the most vulnerable, excluded members of our society.”

• Admitted that although the Welsh Assembly Government was “on the road to implementing the National Service Framework a “refresh was needed”.

• Spoke of an interest in an expert patient programme of learning saying: “For me, what we have to ensure in the next stage of refreshing as well as implementing the (National Service) Framework is that there is networking, there is collaboration, that specialist rehabilitation services address the educational and lifelong needs of people with a mental illness.”

Responding to the Minister’s speech Hafal Chief Executive Bill Walden-Jones described it as “really valuable”. He said it offered encouragement to Hafal and its agenda and that it showed evidence that “Hafal was pushing a door that’s already open”.

Mr Walden-Jones promised attendees that a full report of the conference would be available within twelve weeks. He also spoke of Hafal’s current campaign, also entitled “We Can Do It!” which will offer training to the charity’s client group, providing them with IT skills.