Place2Be and Predatory Social Impact Markets in Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing  

Read Time:10 Minutes

Zoë Carter sounds a warning to parents in the UK over the questionable impact investing linked organisations behind the recent drive for children’s mental health awareness and therapies in schools.

Consider this a public service broadcast. I recently got an email from my child’s school in North Oxfordshire, announcing their collaboration with Place2Be, a charity providing counselling and mental health services to school children, and training for school staff. Apparently, ‘1 in 6 children experience mental health difficulties, rising to 1 in 4 for young people aged 17–19.’ Unless parents opt out, the school and Place2Be assume that parents consent to children using Place2Talk, a self-referral in-school counselling service; according to the charity, a third of children in partner primary schools use Place2Talk. Meanwhile, Place2Be’s agenda is woven into the whole curriculum of the partner schools through assemblies, art projects, lesson plans, and classroom tools such as mental health flashcards.  Use of ‘wellbeing scales’ and Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaires allows the school to ‘identify target pupils’ for further interventions.

Place2Be is under the royal patronage of HRH The Princess of Wales, and several of Place2Be’s partner organisations, namely Heads Together, Shout, Mentally Healthy Schools, and Mental Health Innovations, come under the auspices of The Royal Foundation of The Prince and Princess of Wales. Mentally Healthy Schools was a collaboration between the Anna Freud Centre, Young Minds, Place2Be and The Royal Foundation, before the Anna Freud Centre took over in April 2020. In September 2020, the Anna Freud Centre launched the UK Trauma Council— just in time to study the trauma inflicted on children during the ‘pandemic’. Place2Be is a member of the Child Outcomes Research Consortium (CORC), another Anna Freud project. CORC holds data relating to the mental health and ‘wellbeing outcomes’ of over 400,000 British children and young people, and membership of CORC means the data culled from children by Place2Be is held centrally on behalf of the entire consortium. Place2Be collaborates with ImpactEd, who provide the partner schools with ‘access to measures of [pupils’] social and emotional skills’ making it ‘easy for you to monitor and evaluate the impact of your interventions’.

In the early 1950s, the Anna Freud Centre, then called the Hampstead Child Therapy Clinic, trained the first child psychotherapists working in the newly-created NHS. These days, access to child psychotherapy is out (unless you got the money, honey) and ‘wellness’ apps, behaviour-change-and-tracking apps, the ‘Rainbow of Emotions’, and 15 minute counselling slots during lunch break are in, while mental health diagnoses made by artificial intelligence via gamified online assessments are just round the corner, ditto quarter-of-an-hour post-traumatic stress disorder diagnoses via the Senseye app, an ocular brain-computer interface applying a machine-learning algorithm to heart rate, pupil gaze, & iris biomechanics. The president of start-up company Senseye, as well as running a geo-engineering business, is a development advisor at Magic Breakfast, an ‘impact-led’ charity which provides free breakfasts for children in schools in low-income areas—typically, the same schools who also use Place2Be services. These days, the Anna Freud Centre collaborates with other organisations in several projects using school children as research subjects, whether that’s collecting children’s DNA for the D-CYPHR project; inducing children to provide detailed personal information in annual #BeeWell questionnaires; or testing new ‘innovations’ on school pupils via HeadStart, a ‘huge intervention’ funded by £67.4 million from the National Lottery.

Kooth PLC, ‘the longest established digital mental health provider in the UK’ and commissioned by many NHS Trusts, sells mental health apps for children, teenagers, and employees, and runs campaigns targeting whole populations. In 2021, Kooth launched in America as ‘pioneering innovators of digital behavioral health care’ for young people, winning an $188m four year contract in California to deliver ‘youth digital mental well-being’ services to all six million 13-25 year olds in the state, as part of Governor Gavin Newsom’s Master Plan for Kids’ Mental Health and the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative— with a similar scheme planned for 0-12 year olds.

Kooth (whose kids’ app is promoted in Place2Be schools) is a member of DATAMIND, as are several other ‘industry partners’ such the NHS-linked Akrivia Health, purveyors of ‘personalised medicine’ which ‘take[s] account of an individual’s genetic, biological, psychological and social factors to target the intervention.’ Akrivia Health are ‘currently working with 17 NHS organisations, using the platform to extract and anonymise patients’ psychiatric entries from doctors’ and nurses’ reports and turn it into a comprehensive dataset for analysis.’ DATAMIND is the mental-health data-collection department of Health Data Research UK, a very well-funded ‘charity’  which gathers ‘UK data rich in mental health information, including from gene studies, routine care, volunteer cohorts, and trials […] as well as novel data from schools and charities’ and makes it available to ‘universities, the NHS, the charitable sector, policy makers, and industry.’ Their recent work includes ‘bringing together hospital records, GP data, and coronavirus test results…[making] population-level analysis a reality, providing vital health insights, as well as reassurance on COVID-19 vaccine safety.’ Because, remember folks—data saves lives!

Shout, another Place2Be-affiliated ‘digital support tool’, is a text-message crisis line aimed primarily at young people, and the first product of Mental Health Innovations (MHI) a ‘charity’ founded by the The Royal Foundation in 2017, which uses ‘digital innovation’, and data-driven analysis to ‘improve’ the mental health of the UK population. MHI applies ‘advanced Natural Language Processing (NLP) and machine learning approaches, including deep learning, to analyse the data and build predictive models.’

You might remember a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it news headline about Shout a couple of years back— either remarkably few media outlets covered the story at the time, or it’s since been memory-holed. In an ‘in-depth collaboration’, MHI gave an Imperial College London (ICL) research team access (in addition to ‘anonymised and aggregated’ data) to millions of complete text conversations between Shout users and the volunteers manning the service. A promise in the March 2020 version of the Shout website that ‘individual conversations cannot and will not ever be shared’ had been quietly deleted a year later. Victoria Hornby, chief executive of MHI, is quoted defending her company’s actions on the basis that the promise that individual conversations were confidential and would not be shared was in the ‘frequently asked questions’ section rather than the privacy policy. Imperial College London used these text messages in a research project exploring ways to train artificial intelligence (AI) to predict the behaviour of Shout users, particularly to predict the risk of suicide, and to determine whether the volunteers were sticking to the prescribed conversational template (which ensured that the conversations are machine-readable). The ICL researchers were particularly interested in three groups of Shout users: children aged 13 or younger, people who identified themselves as autistic, and people who identified themselves as ‘non-binary’. One aim of the study was to explore the future potential of AI to ‘monitor’ these crisis-line text conversations in real-time, possibly by using a model ‘such as GPT-3’.  Another experiment used the text conversations of the ‘13 or younger’ group to train AI to predict future mental health problems in children.

MHI teamed up with for-profit tech company Hive Learning—owned by investment company Blenheim Chalcot—to use the framework of Shout to create Mental Health Works, a training programme ‘to help organizations foster a culture of trust and compassion’. Hive Learning runs an AI-powered ‘nudge-driven peer learning platform’ and created ‘a new suite of behaviour change programmes in response to covid-19.’ MHI are quite open, now, about using for their own purposes the data gleaned from people in psychological distress. Hive Learning and Place2Be won a Gold Award in the 2022 Learning Technologies Awards for their joint Mental Health Champions Foundation Programme, an online training course for school staff which launched in August 2020.

MHI head Victoria Hornby, who was awarded an OBE in 2022 for ‘services to the charitable sector during the Covid-19 pandemic’, is also the chair of the Bridges Impact Foundation, a ‘venture philanthropy’ company co-founded by ‘Godfather of impact investment’ Sir Ronald Cohen, which created in 2010 the world’s first Social Impact Bond (SIB) in a project—offering a 7.5% annual return to investors— to reduce recidivism rates in Peterborough Prison. The SIB concept was enthusiastically taken up by MPs from across the political spectrum with one selling-point to the general public being that SIBs ‘prevent people becoming a huge burden on the state’.

In 2012, Essex County Council, in its children’s services, became the first ever local authority to commission a SIB. This ‘Edge of Care’ SIB (aligned to Sustainable Development Goal 3- ‘good health and well-being’) targeted 11–17 year olds who had a range of ‘conduct disorders’ and were deemed likely to end up in Care. The intervention involved up to five months of Multi-Systemic Therapy, and the ‘outcome’ triggering the payout to investors was a reduction in the number of days the adolescents spent in local authority Care. Payments were calculated by determining how much money Essex County Council saved through having fewer days of Care placements (foster homes, residential homes, etc) to pay for. This, in a nutshell, is how ‘pay-for-success’ finance works. Other investors in the Edge of Care SIB included Big Society Capital and JP Morgan. It served as a model for other pay-for-success schemes, notably the Positive Families Partnership, a ‘social outcomes contract’ commissioned by several London boroughs, with upfront investment from Bridges Impact Foundation and Big Society Capital. For every seven consecutive days a young person was recorded as ‘not in care’, during the two-year tracking period, an outcome payment was made. The National Lottery Community Fund, working with the Cabinet Office, hires consultants to produce in-depth reviews of these pay-for-success schemes to ‘grow the market in SIBs’. In Plymouth, the ‘Pause’ social impact bond (aligned SDGs: ‘gender equality’ and ‘peace, justice and strong institutions’) pays out if the women participating don’t become pregnant for 18 months from the start of the programme. Bridges Impact Foundation is also involved in the first African ‘development impact bond’ for ‘poverty alleviation’. Expect more to follow, and expect the investment market in children’s mental health ‘interventions’ to grow too.

Children’s mental and emotional wellbeing is a vitally important issue, and I can well believe that many children and young people are struggling. Global campaigns of terror, complete with psychological manipulation, forced isolation, and the far-reaching hardship caused by the ‘response’ to a ‘deadly pandemic’ do tend to cause a bit of a subsequent ‘uptick’ of hopelessness, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress, after all. So when I hear, over and over and over again, that children’s mental health is in decline, and it’s so concerning, and it’s an emergency, and we’ve got to take action— and this from the very same governments, the same organisations, the same media, the same charities, that instigated, actively colluded in, or passively went along with policies guaranteed to cause incalculable, irrevocable harm to children’s mental health— I can’t help thinking this is a textbook case of ‘problem, reaction, solution’ social engineering. There’s this massive crisis, we must do something now, and the answer can’t possibly include properly funded public services that work, and actually help people— no, what we need are those venture philanthropists to step in and save the day!

Children’s lives: children’s hopes and fears, neatly reduced down to a constantly updated data dashboard providing key insights for stakeholders. This is technocracy in action. Messages from distressed children are being used to feed artificial intelligence. Children’s DNA harvested, because ‘how we think and feel can make us ill, too’. The Biosecurity State is gearing up its focus on children, and virtually none of us parents have been consulted or consented. The email from the school included a Place2Be contact, so I got in touch, to opt my kid out and briefly give my reasons for doing so. That was six weeks ago and I haven’t heard anything back yet. My purpose in writing this article is to help raise awareness for when this stuff shows up at your children’s school. We must push back against this concerted attempt to turn our youth into data commodities to profit private investors—under the guise of providing ‘mental health support’ in response, largely, to the hyped fall-out from a manufactured public health ‘crisis’.

5 thoughts on “Place2Be and Predatory Social Impact Markets in Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing  

  1. It’s imperative that we must reaffirm the work of Thomas Szasz, RD Laing, other dissidents and survivors of psychiatry. 2nd wave Feminists were right about this predatory pseudoscience. The chemical straitjackets must be stopped.

    BTW, YT immediately censors all my comments which mention Alison McDowell or any other researcher investigating the 4th industrial revolution and impact investing.

  2. This is interesting and concerning, and I agree with a lot of your sentiments. However, I do wish you would reconsider continually making passive-aggressive digs at an extremely oppressed group of people– transgender people– by putting non-binary in quotations here, for example. You won’t ever achieve “real left” until you are ready to accept that other people should do as they please with their own bodies and lives.

  3. Thanks for this excellent piece, which needs to be read also by the host of professionals involved in and colluding with the onward march of the impact/outcome agenda. I spent most of my time in the marginal world of youth work, where the influence of the technocratic, behavioural approach to working informally with young people has undermined a young people-centred, process-led, open-ended practice that refused to guarantee the increasingly prescribed outcomes demanded by funders. This struggle against the commodification of young people took the form of an In Defence of Youth Work campaign from 2009 to 2022. Sadly, a sign of the times, IDYW folded as its support dwindled. Its history is still to be found at Its slogan still resonates -IN DEFENCE OF YOUTH WORK that is volatile and voluntary, creative and collective: an association and conversation without guarantees – and is utterly at odds with the politics of venture philanthropy and impact capitalism.

  4. Thanks for this excellent well-researched article, which is extremely concerning, especially re the commodification of children’s mental health problems which are caused by this increasingly toxic society and economy, and the ongoing drive towards automation of therapy. This automation is the logical outcome of the manualisation of therapy which has been going on for decades, ie the reduction of therapy to a set of rigidly defined actions which can be learned from a manual and parroted without any real insight by the therapist. If people are first trained to behave as machines, this undermines the objections to their being replaced by machines. I’m a hypnotherapist and former mental health nurse. In my previous career I saw how much mental health care is just about anaesthetising people to their own unsatisfactory lives. As a hypnotherapist I’ve witnessed the decline of the profession due to the massive overproduction of therapists by training schools most of which teach a manualised form of therapy based on scripts which are simply memorised and recited. The biggest of these schools was set up by a former army officer who presumably thought that therapy can be reduced to a set of repeated actions like stripping and reassembling a machine gun. Effective psychotherapy is mostly neglected by the NHS, and hypnosis entirely rejected, mainly because there is no army of lobbyists and salesmen behind it. I remember when Prozac was first introduced in the early 90s- consultants were paid £1000 for every 25 patients for whom it was prescribed, on the pretext that they were assisting research.
    There’s been some great articles on this site recently which is welcome as I’ve finally quit reading Daily Sceptic which has become simply a sales funnel for the Daily Telegraph.

    1. Many thanks too for this insight into your particular experience of the world of ”scripts which are simply memorised and scripted’. And like you, I’ve given up on the Daily Sceptic as it has abandoned any pretence of being pluralist in its scepticism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.