Delays on young people accessing mental health support

Des Mannion calls for easier access for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in Wales.

It’s hard to believe that ChildLine turns 30 this year. Since 1986, this incredible service has helped over four million children and everyone who’s ever been involved deserves our heartfelt thanks. Not only has the helpline successfully supported so many young people, it’s also helped the experts better understand the complex problems faced by children. None more so than the clear need for accessible mental health services following abuse. 2015 saw a 124 per cent increase in ChildLine counselling sessions relating to mental health and wellbeing across the UK. That’s a huge surge that clearly raises a number of questions.

Manifesto focus

Ahead of the Assembly Elections in May, Click on Wales is profiling some ofWales’ leading organisation’s ‘big asks’ for politics and policy in the fifth assembly.  

Today we’re looking at the big issues for the NSPCC in Wales.

We’ve also hosted pieces from ATL Cymru and Oxfam Cymru so far. We’ll be posting each of the pieces in our ‘manifesto series’ category, which you can keep up to date with here.

In Wales, we know that the total number of children and young people referred and waiting for treatment via ‘Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services’ (CAMHS) has recently rocketed – almost doubling between 2010 and 2014. That increase was followed by criticism of provision in an Assembly committee report, which concluded services simply couldn’t cope with demand. Today, NSPCC Cymru has launched a new campaign – It’s Time. The focus: raising awareness of the barriers children face when getting help to rebuild their lives after abuse. We’ve released the results of a survey of professionals working with abused children in Wales. We contacted health, education and social care experts and asked them whether the current provision of therapeutic services is meeting the needs of children for whom the effects of abuse or neglect are a primary concern. 63 per cent said they’d experienced young people waiting over five months for treatment. That compares to 65 per cent in Scotland, 26 per cent in Northern Ireland and 46 per cent in England. Nine in ten Welsh professionals felt services to help victims of abuse overcome their trauma were inadequate and over a third (34%) described cuts in available services.

One specialist described accessing therapy for children as ‘extremely difficult’ and another said: “Thresholds for services have been made higher. CAMHS is almost impossible to access unless the child is actively suicidal.” That’s a crucial issue that we believe continues to hamper accessibility. We can’t wait until a young person’s need for treatment has reached such a level that it becomes imperative. Preventing that is key. “CAMHS in my area does not accept children for post abuse support. This is not seen as a priority” said one paediatrician in Wales.  A therapist said: “Demand for counselling services has grown, however, service budgets have been cut.”

This – at a time when over 2,900 Welsh children have been identified as needing protection from abuse. This – at a time when the number of recorded sexual offences against children has increased by over a quarter.

The figures don’t stack up. Access to CAMHS should be the easiest it’s ever been. It shouldn’t be getting tougher. Let’s be clear – the impact of abuse includes mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, substance misuse, eating disorders, self-harm, anger and aggression. Receiving swift specialist support can mean the difference between a young person overcoming their trauma or a life shaped by the horror of their experiences. It’s a Welsh national scandal that children here are being forced to wait months without that crucial help. It’s got to stop and that’s why NSPCC Cymru will be placing therapeutic support at the heart of our manifesto for the forthcoming Assembly elections. It’s Time to ensure children get the help they need at the right time to recover.

We want the Welsh Government to prioritise support for children who have been abused and neglected within the current CAMHS ‘Service Improvement Programme’. Getting help to these children earlier is vital and can prevent longer term damage to the lives of those who have survived the horrors of abuse. Welsh ministers have already pledged additional funding for this service. That’s hugely welcome but we want to see it used effectively – and swiftly.

Nowhere is getting it right. There are problems with these issues right across the United Kingdom. Our survey approached professionals in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland, as well as in Wales. The results show there is work to do right across the board. With latest estimates suggesting over half a million children are abused in the UK every year, it’s time for every government to make much-needed improvements. We’re asking people to raise this issue with Assembly candidates in the run-up to the election on May 5th and we’ll be building on that in the coming weeks and months.

It’s hard to remember a time when issues surrounding the neglect and abuse of children have been so regularly in the media spotlight. Yet it’s still so easy to forget the persistent psychological and emotional damage that young people can suffer. Every child affected should be able to access the therapy the need. Without delay.

Des Mannion is NSPCC Head of Service for Wales.

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