Quarter of children referred for CAMHS treatment denied support
One quarter of children with mental health problems are being denied specialist help from child and adolescent mental health services, the Education Policy Institute has warned.
A report from the EPI based on Freedom of Information requests found that 24.2% of children referred to specialist mental health services were rejected in 2017-18. The most common reasons provided for rejecting a referral were that the young person’s condition was not deemed serious enough to meet eligibility criteria or that their condition was not suitable for specialist CAMHS intervention.
"Some providers reported that they would not accept young people into treatment without evidence that they had engaged with other services. Others reported they would not accept those who only demonstrated mental health difficulties in one area of life, e.g. at school or at home, or those who demonstrated a ‘normal’ reaction to life events like parental divorce, bereavement or abuse," said the report.
It stated that a conservative estimate of the number of rejected referrals in the latest year is 55,800, but the true number will be higher than this due to providers that did not respond to the FOI. Provider data is too often incomplete or unreliable and several providers which had previously sent in their data reported that they were unable to this year. In some cases, these were providers with very high referral rejections. Private providers are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, meaning that data could not be obtained from them in relation to public services they provide.
There is also wide variation between providers, with some rejecting approximately half of all referrals and some reporting that they rejected fewer than one per cent of young people referred this year.
According to the newly collected data, the number of referrals to specialist CAMHS has increased by 26 per cent over the last five years. However, the population of young people aged 18 and under increased by 3 per cent over the same period indicating that the rate of referrals has increased substantially.
Providers reported that they made no or limited follow-up with the young person after a referral was deemed inappropriate. Only a minority contacted other services that they thought were more appropriate and a small minority checked whether the young person had accessed other support.
However, the new data showed that there are not always good alternative services in place for young people not accepted into specialist treatment. A quarter of local authorities who responded to the FOI request reported decommissioning or no longer providing services related to young people’s mental and emotional well-being.
The report also looked at waiting times and found that the average median waiting time reported in 2017-18 was 34 days to assessment and 60 days to treatment. Maximum waiting times in 2017-18 were 267 days to assessment and 345 days to treatment, although there was wide variation in waiting times across the country.
The report concludes that timely and high-quality specialist care will always be necessary, and more needs to be done to ensure it is in place across the country. However a wider focus should be reducing demand for services and to work towards a concerted child poverty reduction strategy, access to high quality early intervention services in all areas and a well-staffed and experienced teaching and support workforce in all schools to support pupils with additional needs.
Diane Wills is Consultant Social Worker at WillisPalmer, responsible for quality assuring the forensic risk assessment reports.
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