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‘Crisis’ in children’s mental healthcare – Children’s Commissioner

There is a “crisis” in children’s mental healthcare, the Children’s Commissioner has said as she called for more to be done to support young people.

Youngsters are waiting “far too long” to access mental health support, Dame Rachel de Souza said.

A new report by the commissioner highlights the growing number of children with mental health needs.

Dame Rachel said that this generation of children has experienced “uniquely uncertain and challenging times” including the coronavirus pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis and an increasing number are “exposed to the harmful impact of social media, cyber bullying,
and online exploitation”.

“I do not think it is an overstatement to speak of a crisis in children’s mental health and the services needed to support them,” she said in the forward of the report.

“For children who need it, support should be put in place quickly and locally: no child should be left on a waiting list for months or years.”

The authors of the report said that demand for children’s mental health services “continues to outstrip the availability of support”.

The report, which analyses NHS England data for 2022/23, found:

– nearly one million children and young people – 949,200 – were referred to Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services (CYPMHS), equal to 8% of the 11.9 million children in England.

– Almost 305,000 entered treatment, but 270,300 were still waiting at the end of the year;

– Some 372,800 (39%) had their referrals closed before accessing CYPMHS.

– Boys, younger children, and white children all wait longer periods of time for mental health support on average.

– Around 32,200 children waited for more than two years for their second contact from services.

Dame Rachel said: “This generation of children have faced uncertain and challenging times like no other generation before them – they are bombarded with negative world news, and many are exposed to the harmful impact of the online world.

“Against this backdrop, it’s unsurprising that so many children and young people are continuing to experience issues with their mental health.

“For children and young people two years can be a significant portion of their young lives, so the long waiting times experienced by some children in this report can feel agonisingly long.

“Children are still waiting far too long to access the support they need, and for too many children the speed at which they can access support is still down to the luck of where they live.

“With the right early support, many children would not need access to mental health services.

“We need fresh, long-term thinking when it comes to children’s mental and emotional health and wellbeing. Children need environments – both online and offline – where they grow up feeling happy, safe and supported, and aren’t left to feel like second class citizens when it comes to accessing mental health support.”

Commenting on the report, Olly Parker, head of external affairs at the charity Young Minds, said: “We’re in a mental health emergency and it’s heartbreaking so many young people are struggling to get the support they need.

“This generation has grown up experiencing a unique set of pressures, living through a pandemic with intense academic pressure to catch up on lost learning, a cost-of-living crisis and increasing global instability.

“When they reach out for help, young people are faced with a system stretched to breaking point.

“Many experience long waits or are turned away because they’re told they’re not ill enough. The consequences of this can be devastating, with many becoming more unwell.

The Children’s Charities Coalition – Action for Children, Barnardo’s, NCB, NSPCC, The Children’s Society – added: “Too many children and young people are becoming increasingly unwell whilst their names sit on a waiting list.

“Our younger generation face a myriad of challenges growing up today, with the long-term impact of Covid hanging over them, the ongoing cos-of-living pressures and online dangers, to name a few.

“Children and young people deserve more. We need the Government – and ahead of the General Election all political parties – to prioritise mental health support in schools alongside a national strategy to prevent more children from reaching crisis point.”

An NHS England spokesperson said: “Latest figures show the NHS is treating more young people than ever before with 48% more children and young people accessing support since 2019/20, and the health service is expanding this provision as quickly as possible within the current five-year funding arrangements to meet this rising demand.

“But we know there is more to do which is why plans are also in place to ensure more than one in two pupils in schools and colleges have access to an NHS mental health support team by spring 2025 – significantly ahead of the original target.”

– Shout provides 24/7 urgent mental health support via text: text SHOUT to 85258 or visit www.giveusashout.org and Childline is a free and confidential service for under-19s living in the UK which can be accessed via www.childline.org.uk or by calling 0800 1111. Samaritans is a free listening service that offers 24/7 support and can be access at www.samaritans.org or by calling 116 123.