Headteachers won't be surprised at the findings of a report published yesterday by the think tank Centre Forum. The results of a Freedom of Information request showed that Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are, on average, turning away nearly a quarter (23%) of children referred to them for treatment by concerned parents, GPs, teachers and others. This was often because their condition was not considered serious enough, or not considered suitable for specialist mental health treatment.
This echoes what Place2Be hears all the time from schools. Earlier this year, our survey of over 1400 school leaders, conducted in partnership with the NAHT, found that 43% of headteachers felt that a lack of relationship with health services such as CAMHS is a barrier to putting in place mental health support for pupils.
One headteacher remarked:
"We have good relationships with CAMHS staff but they are understaffed, under resourced and lack capacity to deliver any in depth therapeutic support."
Worryingly, the Centre Forum report also refers to instances where services would only accept referrals from listed professionals, for instance GPs and not teachers, further inhibiting schools' ability to ensure that pupils are supported.
In areas where Place2Be works with schools, we aim to build close ties with local CAMHS in order to make sure that referrals are smooth for the children and young people involved, and that a continuum of support is available. Often, we can offer children almost immediate one-to-one counselling - either to address an issue early on, before it escalates or becomes entrenched - or while a child or young person waits for a CAMHS appointment. In some cases we also provide 'follow on' support once CAMHS have finished working with a child if that is needed.
Only when services are joined up and work together can children and young people get the level of support that they need and in a timely way. By working directly in schools, we are able to remove stigma, intervene early and support children before problems deteriorate, and we can also prevent children from falling through the cracks by being easily accessible and providing the support they so desperately need.
CAMHS services are under resourced, and that will take time to fix. In the meantime, it's crucial that we make the most of what scarce resources are available. In addition, it's vital that schools and CAMHS speak a common language. That's why at Place2Be we have developed a training programme for 'School Mental Health Champions' - empowering senior leaders in schools to identify what schools themselves can provide and commission; to better advocate for and promote the importance of children's mental health in their own schools; and to build stronger links with their local CAMHS.
In an ideal world, every school would have a professional mental health service and would be able to refer the most serious cases successfully on to specialist CAMHS. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has also recently launched a campaign for all pupils in England to have access to a counsellor. But unfortunately we know that around half of primary schools in England do not have access to counselling for pupils (either school-based or peripatetic), and are therefore unlikely to be able to offer professional support for children who do not meet CAMHS thresholds.
Three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health issue, and the number of referrals into specialist mental health services is increasing. Without investment in both early intervention and crisis care, the situation can only deteriorate over time.
In order to effectively support children and build their resilience for the future, we must ensure that the whole system works well - both in terms of early intervention and prevention through schools, and also making sure children can access support quickly if they are in crisis.