Every school day, 183 pupils are referred to CAMHS

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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Overall referrals continue to soar, with at least 35,000 last year. However, one-third of pupils referred to CAMHS are being turned away and declined specialist treatment. Pete Henshaw reports

Schools have made more than 120,000 referrals for mental health treatment in four years, but almost of third of these children have been declined specialist treatment, Freedom of Information figures have revealed.

An investigation led by the NSPCC found that NHS Trusts in England have received 123,713 referrals since 2014/15 from schools seeking help for pupils from NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Furthermore, the number of referrals to CAMHS has been steadily increasing year-on-year. In 2014/15 there were 25,140 referrals, a figure which in 2017/18 reached 34,757 – the equivalent of 183 every school day.

However, nearly a third (31 per cent) of the referrals from schools to CAMHS over the last three years were declined treatment as they did not meet the criteria for support.

And the NSPCC says that the true figures are likely to be higher still given that only 53 of 66 NHS Trusts provided complete data for all four years and only 45 Trusts gave data on the number of referrals that were considered ineligible for treatment.

The NSPCC says that increased demand for support across specialist CAMHS and in schools is putting huge pressure on the system.

The charity’s Childline service has seen a 26 per cent increase in the number of counselling sessions with children about mental health issues over the past four years. In 2016/17 Childline delivered 101,454 counselling sessions about mental and emotional health, self-harm or suicidal feeling and thoughts.

The NSPCC is urging the government to invest more funding into early support services for children. And last week, the charity took four of their young campaigners to Downing Street to hand in a petition of 22,411 signatures calling for increased funding to Childline as part of its Are You There? campaign.

There is clear evidence of a mental health crisis among young people. The government’s Mental Health Taskforce reported in 2016 that one in 10 children aged five to 16 now have a diagnosable condition, while the evidence shows that half of all mental health problems are established by 14, and three-quarters by the age of 24.

In December, a government Green Paper unveiled its plans to tackle these issues. They include a four-week waiting time pledge for specialist support, new mental health support teams in schools, training for senior designated mental health leads in schools, and general mental health awareness training for schools. Mental health is also to form a key part of reformed PSHE and relationships and sex education.

However, critics have attacked the government’s plans for lacking urgency. So-called “Trailblazer” pilot projects, where mental health teams provide extra support alongside waiting time targets, are set to roll out in only a fifth to a quarter of the country by 2022/23.

Among the critics are MPs on the Education and the Health and Social Care Select Committees. A joint report published last week attacked the government’s plans as “unambitious” and said they would not help the children who need it most.

Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, said: “The Green Paper is just not ambitious enough and will leave so many children without the care they need. It needs to go much further in considering how to prevent mental health difficulties in the first place. We want to see more evidence that government will join up services in a way which places children and young people at their heart and that improves services to all children rather than a minority.”

Chair of the Education Committee, Rob Halfon MP, added: “The government must back up its warm words by taking urgent action to address the mental health issues which children and young people face today. This strategy does not go far enough, which raises the very real prospect of hundreds of thousands of children missing out on getting the help they so desperately need.

“We heard of the strong links between social disadvantage and mental health issues. If the government is serious about tackling injustices in our society, it must ensure proper targeted funding of support for those most in need.

“Social media is an increasing part of young people’s lives. Given both the negative and positive impacts it can have on young people’s mental health, social media education should be made a compulsory part of PSHE.”

The NSPCC says that some young people are only getting the specialist support they need when they reach crisis point.

Furthermore, its says that Childline counsellors have had to intervene to help some young people get support sooner. One 17-year-old girl told Childline: “I suffer with anxiety and panic attacks and find it difficult to leave the house or get out of bed. I was referred to CAMHS but I was on a waiting list for eight months and during that time my anxiety got worse so I never went because I was too scared.”

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC ,said: “Our research shows schools are increasingly referring children for specialist mental health treatment, often when the child is at crisis point. Childline plays a vital role in supporting children with their mental health, and many turn to us when they are struggling to get access to specialist treatment. Early counselling from Childline could also help relieve the pressure on CAMHS.

“We have seen a marked increase in counselling about mental health, and fully expect it to continue.”

  • The Government’s Green Paper on Mental Health: Failing a generation, report from the Education and Health Select Committees, May 2018: http://bit.ly/2rF9Uvv
  • Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision: A green paper, Department for Education, Department of Health and Social Care, December 2017: http://bit.ly/2nOHFel
  • The NSPCC’s Childline service is available 24/7 on freephone 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk. Adults worried about a child can contact the helpline 24/7 on 0808 800 5000, by texting 88858 or visiting www.nspcc.org.uk

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