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New report on student access to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS)

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​The Education Policy Institute has released its annual report on access to CAMHS. The report analyses new data obtained using freedom of information requests to mental health providers and local authorities over the course of a year.

The report finds a stark gap between available support and the needs of the estimated 1.25 million children and young people who have a diagnosable mental health condition:

  • Only one in three children with a diagnosable condition are accessing treatment
  • In 2018-2019, approximately a quarter (26%) of children and young people (CYP) referred to specialist mental health services were not accepted into treatment
  • There is widespread variation across England. Providers in London rejected 17% of referrals whereas the south of England, the Midlands and the east of England rejected 28%. The north of England rejected 22%
  • The most common reasons for rejection were that a young person's condition was unsuitable for CAMHS, or they did not meet the eligibility criteria or age specification


◦ This raises concerns that CYP with complex, less-well understood or lower-level mental health needs and older adolescents are not accessing the necessary support 

◦ Of concern is the lack of understanding and recognition of children with conduct disorders, which is the most common mental health condition among CYP and commonly linked to school exclusions

  • A fragmented and inconsistent approach to service commissioning exists across the country, leaving a postcode lottery of provision


◦ Only 20% of areas have specific provision for those with a conduct disorder

◦ More than half of the country have specific services for looked after children 

◦ Fewer than one in five areas have dedicated staff to support young people transitioning into adult services

  • CYP waited an average of 56 days to begin treatment in 2019, which is double the proposed four-week standard, but 11 days shorter than in 2015


◦ Waiting times varied across the country. They were longest in London (65 days) and shortest in the Midlands and east of England (49 days)

  • Significant flaws in the system for reporting and disclosing basic data on CAMHS resulted in quality issues with data on access to and eligibility for support.


The report recommends that the government should do the following:

  • Broaden its focus to prevention of mental ill-health by holistically addressing difficulties as soon as they emerge rather than resorting to costly acute interventions. This would reduce pressure on an over-stretched system
  • Develop a more ambitious programme to reduce the burden of mental illness, which is causally linked to poor academic attainment and an obstacle to social mobility
  • Urgently develop a robust system for reporting data on access to CAMHS, which includes a clear definition of children who are eligible for treatment.


Read the full report

First published 17 January 2020