Referrals from nurseries and schools for children’s mental health support are rising, charity says

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Children’s charity the NSPCC has revealed that the number of education settings seeking mental health support for pupils has risen by more than a third in the last 3 years.

It found that the average age of the youngest child at referral in 2017/18 was just three and a half years old.

The data came as a result of a Freedom of Information request sent by the charity to 66 NHS Trusts in England, asking for the number of referrals from education settings to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in the years 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18. 

‘Education settings’ were defined in this context as local authority maintained schools, academies, pupil referral units, nurseries, and independent schools and providers.

The charity found that more than half of referrals from settings in England in the past 3 years were from primary schools.

The data also revealed that there were 123,713 referrals from education settings between 2014/15 and 2017/18. However, the NSPCC believes the true number to be much higher, as some NHS Trusts were unable to provide information spanning the full four years.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said that the figures highlight the pressures mental health services in England are under, adding that the number of referrals received from primary schools was “particularly concerning”.

In almost a third of referrals for which data had been provided, specialist treatment from CAMHS was denied to children. 

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

He continued, “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.”

Childline, a counselling service for young people, reported a 26 percent increase in the number of sessions related to mental health issues over the past 4 years.

This snapshot of the mental health of children in England from the NSPCC follows a damning report published by the Health and Social Care Committee last week. The report was highly critical of plans outlined in the Government’s proposed Green Paper on Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision.  

MPs from both committees criticised the Government for ‘missing’ the early years in its mental health strategy. The report said: “A lack of focus on the early years means that opportunities are being missed to promote emotional resilience and prevent mental health and well-being problems later in life.

“There is no consideration given to the important role that health visitors and children’s centres can have in promoting emotional wellbeing in the early years or of the adverse impact reductions in funding for these areas might have on support for the 0 to 5 age group.” 

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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