Mum's 'fight' for mental health support for autistic son

Charlie sat in front of a piano
Charlie said he now felt "much better" after moving to another school [Phil Bodmer/BBC]

A mother claims she had to fight "tooth and nail" for months to get support for her autistic son after he had a mental health crisis when he started at a new school.

Charlie, who is now 13 and from Bradford, struggled when he started at a mainstream school with 3,500 pupils in 2022.

His mum, Katie, said staff there could not support him with his additional needs, which led to him needing an emergency referral to mental health services and eventually moving to a special school.

West Yorkshire Integrated Care Board said timely access to treatment and support was a "priority".

Katie said Charlie was referred to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), but it took six months before he was given a face-to-face appointment.

"It was the worst part of our lives. We thought we’d have some instant support, but we had to wait six months to see an actual person," she said.

"In that time, we just didn’t know what to do to help Charlie."

"You have to be relentless in your fight so your child can get what they rightfully deserve and need," Katie added.

Katie at a table with some paperwork
Katie said parents should not "give up" trying to get their children mental health support [Phil Bodmer/BBC]

Charlie said: "It was horrible because there’s a massive lack of understanding in mainstream schools of special needs and autism.

"It was like you were thrown in the deep end. You have to navigate this large school and it’s a bit much."

He said he felt like he was "sinking", with teachers unable to help him.

"Support for mental health has big waiting lists," he said, adding he had to spend a year off school after his crisis.

"It was the hardest time of my life, because there was no routine, no structure, everything was stressful, and my mental health got worse."

Data analysed by the BBC has found that more children are now accessing CAMHS compared with last year.

In the year leading up to February 2023, 35,810 children in West Yorkshire were supported through NHS-funded mental health services with at least one contact.

In the year to February 2024, this number had risen to 37,430.

'Not back down'

Charlie said that after a year, he was able to get a place at a new school, which he found "quiet and relaxed", leading to a better learning environment.

"I’m feeling much better. I know I can get by now. I’m in a school where the staff care," he said.

"It feels like the entire school is a family and that’s how I feel schools should be."

However, Charlie's mother said she felt the support he now had in place took too long to organise.

"We’ve had to fight tooth and nail for it. Not give up, not back down."

West Yorkshire Integrated Care Board said that "increasing" numbers of children were receiving at least one contact session each year despite workforce pressures and rising demand.

If you are affected by issues raised in this article, help and support is available via the BBC Action Line.

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