Rise in number of schools asking for mental health support for children

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Children as young as three are being referred by nurseries and schools for professional support with their mental health, the NSPCC has learned.


More than half of referrals from schools in England for mental health support for children came from primary schools

  • The number of education settings seeking seeking professional mental health help for pupils up by more than a third in the last three years, NSPCC says
  • 56 per cent of referrals were for primary school children
  • Total referrals for children aged 11 and under rose from 13,687 in 2014/15 to 20,137 in 2017/18

More than half of referrals from settings in England for mental health treatment in the last three years were from primary schools, the NSPCC says.

The average age of the youngest child at referral was around three-and-a half in 2017/18.

The charity’s figures are based on a Freedom of Information request it made to NHS trusts in England.

According to the data, there were 123,713 referrals made by education settings seeking professional mental health help between 2014/15 and 2017/18.

Of these, 56 per cent of referrals came from primary schools.  An average of 183 referrals were made per school day in 2017/18.

In this context, 'education settings' encompasses local authority maintained schools, academies, nurseries, independent schools and providers, and pupil referral units.

In almost a third of referrals for which data is available, children were denied specialist treatment from Child and Adolescent Mental health Services (CAMHS).

The NSPCC sent FOI requests to 66 NHS trusts in England asking for the number of CAMHS referrals they have had from education settings in the last three years (2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18). This also included an age breakdown (11 and under, 12-15 and 16 and over) and the number of referrals who were and weren’t eligible for treatment.

53 trusts provided at least some data for the total number of CAMHS referrals they have had from education settings, showing 25,140 referrals for 2014-15 and 34,757 for 2017-18. The NSPCC said it expected the number to be much higher as someof the trusts did not provide information for all four years.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said, ‘Our research shows schools are increasingly referring children for specialist mental health treatment, often when the child is at crisis point.’

Childline, which is run by the NSPCC, has reported a 26 per cent increase in the number of counselling sessions with children about mental health issues  over the past four years.

Mr Wanless said, ‘We have seen a marked increase in counselling about mental health, and fully expect it to continue. It is vital that Government urgently provides more funding to Childline and help children who don’t have access to support elsewhere.’

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said the statistics highlighted the pressures the pressures mental health services are under in England today and the number of referrals from primary schools was ‘particularly concerning’.

Dr Max Davie, officer for health promotion at th RCPCH said, ‘Paediatricians working in the community have also noted a surge in referrals for emotional and behavioural difficulties, often once CAMHS have rejected the referral,’ he said. ‘As professionals who work closely with local authorities we are aware of widespread cuts to behavioural support in the educational sector, leaving schools exposed and unsupported. 

‘At the universal level, we need Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) at all primary and secondary schools, so that children can self-manage better.

‘But only a system-wide overhaul of agencies concerned with children's mental health will allow us to identify children developing mental health problems (including behavioural disorders) and allow for assessment of need and appropriate multi-agency support, thus preventing them from getting to crisis point.

‘We need a “local offer” laying out pathways and early interventions for children who are starting to run in trouble.'

The figures follow a damning report by the Education Select Committee, published last week, which was highly critical of the Government’s mental health plans for children and young people, saying they lacked ambition and would provide no help to the majority of children who need help.

A Government spokesperson said, ‘Making sure children and young people get the right support when they need it is imperative. That is why are allocating £300 million, over and above the additional £1.4bn being invested in specialist services, to provide more support linked to schools. This includes new mental health support teams to provide trained mental health workers to work closely with schools –including primary schools - to provide quicker support to children.

‘We know we need to do more which is why we have extended our schools and NHS link pilot to deliver training in 20 more areas of the country this year. This will improve links between up to 1,200 schools and their local specialist mental health service.’

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