Access to mental health services for children and young people


Improving access to and engagement with mental health services is a central tenant of the Children and Young People’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (CYP IAPT) programme, which commenced in 2011. The Education Policy Institute (EPI) published their third report on mental health services for CYP on the 7th October, with the current report focussing on access to services. The report is timely, as the CYP IAPT programme will become self-sustaining from 2019.

Which methods were used to obtain data for the report?

The EPI sent Freedom of Information requests to service providers (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services; CAMHS) across England. In 2018, 90% of services and 73% of local authorities (e.g., county councils) returned information requested (Service: 54/60 providers contacted; Local authorities: 111/152). However, the data returned varied in terms of quality and extent (e.g., missing data points). The Institute also analysed data from the Mental Health Forward View Dashboard, which highlights performance against targets for Clinical Commissioning Groups (e.g., responsible for planning and funding health services for the local area that they look after).

What did the report find?





Access to mental health services for CYP

  • The number of referrals have increased in the last five years by 26%.
  • 2% of referrals were rejected or were described as inappropriate – common reasons including the CYP did not meet the thresholds for treatment (i.e. the condition was not serious enough), or the condition was not suitable for intervention.
    • Of the referrals rejected, most services signposted CYP to a more appropriate service.
    • However, there was limited, or no follow-up after a referral was not accepted into CAMHS.
    • 27/111 local authorities reported no longer providing services based on supporting early help (e.g., support for CYP with mild-moderate mental health problems), or support in schools.

Waiting times (2017-18)

  • The average median waiting time (maximum number of days in brackets) was 34 days (267) to assessment and 60 days (345) to treatment.

What were the limitations of the report?

The Education Policy Institute highlights that the quality of the data received, as well as official published data, should be treated with caution, due to the lack of standards for reporting data and missing data from CAMHS providers. The report also emphasised that it is also unclear how the Government is currently progressing on its commitment to increasing the CAMHS workforce, which is an important foundation to consider when analysing access to treatment for CYP.

In sum, the report highlights that CYP continue to experience difficulties in accessing treatment (e.g., referrals accepted, waiting times) and emphasise that greater attention needs to be paid to early intervention and prevention – to take ‘demand out of the system’ (p.30). To do so, policy makers could focus on a child poverty reduction strategy and ‘whole school’ (p. 31) approach.

Blog post written by Dr Rachel Moss (Twitter: @DrRMoss), Research Associate on the PGR Wellbeing project at the University of Portsmouth (School of Education and Sociology).