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Quarter of children referred to CAMHS denied support

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More than a quarter of children referred for mental health services were refused help or support, a report has warned.

The Education Policy Institute carried out Freedom of Information requests which revealed that 26.3% of children referred to specialist mental health services were not accepted for help in 2016-2017.

According to NHS statistics, around 147,000 young people were in contact with children and young people’s mental health services in May 2017 and therefore it can be estimated that around 52,500 children’s referrals were not accepted over the time period when these referrals were accepted.

The most common reason for children not receiving services was that they did not meet the high thresholds for care. However, there were often mistakes in the referral process, for example, with the referrer not providing enough information and the report calls for greater training for professionals making referrals such as teachers and GPs.

There is wide variation between providers. While some providers do not accept over half of their referrals, for others, that figure is less than 5 per cent.

The report also highlighted that the average waiting time for assessment has dropped from 39 days in 2015-16 to 33 days in 2016-17 and for treatment from 67 to 56 days. The average of all providers’ maximum waits to treatment also decreased from 761 days in the first year to 490 in the past year.

The report calls for national waiting time standards to be put in place and said the forthcoming Green Paper on mental health and schools provides an ideal opportunity for the government to address these concerns and to ensure that young people can access early intervention support in every area of the country, either in school or in the community. The report also calls for training for professionals making referrals to reduce delays for those children being referred.

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary, National Education Union, said: “Children in urgent need of mental health support are being let down by the under-funding of the system.  Our members in schools are deeply anxious that many more young people need specialist support than can access it because CAMHS services are so thinly stretched.

“This report reveals simply unacceptable waiting times for assessment – 266 days - and for treatment – 490 days – of children referred by GPs and schools for specialist mental health services.

“With this report finding that 1 in 4 of referrals are currently not accepted, it’s urgent to increase capacity in these children’s services.

“The government must properly fund services so that every child who needs support is assessed and treated quickly, by the right experts and specialists.

“Emotional health and well-being underpins children’s ability to enjoy school and engage with the curriculum. The National Education Union wants every child and their family to get the right support, in good time, for as long as they need it. The pressure on schools to fill the gaps for specialist services is simply indefensible.”

Download the Education Policy Institute report.

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