Mental health referrals rise by quarter four children

New research has found that the number of referrals to child and adolescent mental health services in England has increased by 26 per cent over the past five years.

Access to children and young people’s mental health services – 2018, published by the Education Policy Institute, assesses the state of children’s mental health services in England, examining access to specialist services, waiting times for treatment, and provision for those children that are not able to receive treatment.

The report finds that, alongside the 26 per cent increase in referrals, as many as one in four children referred to specialist mental health services were rejected last year, with the charity estimating that there were at least 55,800 children not accepted into treatment in 2017/18. The most common reason for referrals being rejected remains that children’s mental health conditions were not serious enough to meet the eligibility criteria for treatment.

Furthermore, the Education Policy Institute found that most providers do not follow up with children who have been unable to access treatment and that many areas of the country lack sufficient alternative services for young people who have not been accepted for treatment.

Examining waiting times, the report reveals that many children still face unacceptably long waiting times, and there are great disparities across providers. In fact, the longest wait for treatment reported by mental health service providers in England ranges from 188 days, to just one day. Significantly, current waiting times are far longer than the government’s new standard of 4 weeks, set out in its green paper on children’s mental health.

Worryingly, 27 of the 111 local authorities who responded to the freedom of information request said they had scrapped services related to the mental health and wellbeing of children over the last eight years.

Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “This report reinforces the urgent need for a root-and-branch overhaul of children’s mental health services, and for the NHS to work with councils to develop a system that says yes, rather than no, to children when they ask for help.

“Councils across the country work hard to ensure children and young people can access the support they need, however with children’s services facing a £3 billion funding gap by 2025, this is getting increasingly difficult.  As a result, many councils are being forced to cut early intervention work, including youth services, which helps children avoid reaching crisis point, perform better at school and avoid mental health issues in later life. This has been compounded by government cuts to councils’ public health funding, which also helps young people to get the best start in life.”

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