New NHS survey reveals declining state of mental health services for children and young people


The Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP), The British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP), The British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC) and the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), have released findings from a new survey which included responses from over 3000 NHS counsellors, child psychotherapists and other therapists.

Nearly 500 of these are working in mental health services for children and young people and their responses reveal extremely worrying signs of decline in services:

Key facts

  • 84 per cent of NHS counsellors and therapists surveyed say children now need to have more severe levels of illness in order to get help.
  • 67 per cent say waiting times have got longer over the last 5 years.
  • 33 per cent say their service is facing downsizing or closure.
  • 76 per cent say the number of posts is inadequate to meet clients’ needs.

In addition to the shocking finding that 84% of therapists and counsellors say that children and young people have needed to have increasingly high levels of illness in order to get help over the last five years, almost a third of participants currently working in NHS children’s services reported that their service would be downsizing or closing. The government has promised additional resources for mental health services for children and young people, but these figures indicate that services may not be getting the resources they urgently need. 
Two-thirds of respondents said that waiting lists have got longer over the last five years, and three quarters of respondents said the number of posts in their service was inadequate to meet client’s needs.

With two thirds of respondents reporting that psychotherapy and counselling posts were being or already had been downgraded, the question needs to be asked about what provision is available for those children with the most severe and complex needs. Are they going to be left without the support of the highly skilled clinicians who have specific and extensive training to work with them? 

Considered together these findings suggest that NHS mental health services for children have been in sharp decline over the last five years. The survey also revealed the negative impact of this on staff morale, with practitioners feeling that the service they are able to offer is inadequate to meet the needs of vulnerable children and young people and their families. The impact of this will also be felt by those professionals who rely on support from these services, including other health professionals, social workers and teachers. 

With the Green Paper on CYP mental health now published , the ACP, BACP, BPC and the UKCP are asking for politicians to re-think how they resource NHS mental health services. In addition to counsellors and therapists working within schools and the community, our young people depend on timely access to well trained staff in clinics able to provide specialist care and psychotherapeutic treatment.

ACP Chair Heather Stewart, said:

‘At a time when the green paper has been launched and the government is pledging more support for the mental health of children and young people, this timely survey must act as a reminder of what is happening in CAMHS now. Jobs are being cut, posts are being downgraded, experienced child psychotherapists and other senior professional clinicians are being lost to services. The ACP does not think the answer is solely in spending more money; it believes in spending money wisely. Let's not throw away the good treatment that is already available in the rush to provide quick (and potentially superficial) fixes for seriously mentally ill children and young people. Children need the right treatment from the right professionals (including child psychotherapists) at the right time.'

Chair of BACP, Andrew Reeves commented:

‘These results – part of a much wider NHS survey – only serve to highlight the need for school-based counselling, something BACP has long campaigned for. School-based counselling can provide an early intervention to stop conditions accelerating into something more serious and complex, and is quicker and easier for children to access, usually in just two to three weeks. Plus it can also work as a parallel support alongside CAMHS.’ 

BPC Chair, Helen Morgan says:

‘As the Government sets out its plans on how to better support children and young people experiencing mental ill health, it must take account of the extremely concerning findings from our survey.  We can now see that NHS mental health services for children and young people are in a dire state of decline, and it is shocking that children and young people may need to be experiencing more severe levels of illness in order to receive support.  The crisis is now, there has already been a psychological cost to children and young people, and the cost of allowing this crisis to continue will be a generation of psychologically disturbed children and young people growing up to become extremely vulnerable adults.  Seriously addressing this crisis must be treated as a matter of absolute priority and urgency.’

UKCP Chair, Martin Pollecoff concludes:

We already know 75% of all mental illness start in childhood and if the window of opportunity is missed, problems can persist over a lifetime. The Green Paper was a step towards recognising the importance of early intervention, but bolder action is needed to make lasting change. We urge the government to increase investment in children and young people’s mental health services.

You can read the report here