School referrals for mental health treatment rise by a third

RCPCH's Dr Max Davie responds to new figures from the NSPCC which reveal the number of referrals by schools seeking mental health treatment for pupils has risen by over a third in the last three years.

In a Freedom of Information request to NHS Trusts in England the NSPCC found schools seeking professional help for pupils from NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) made 123,713 referrals since 2014/15.

Worryingly most referrals (56%) came from primary schools with the charity citing lack of funding and services to support children in those settings as a major factor. 

Overall the number of referrals to CAMHS from schools has steadily increased each year since 2014/15, reaching 34,757 in 2017/18 – the equivalent of 183 every school day.

The charity is warning that increased demand for support across specialist CAMHS, schools and the voluntary sector is placing the system under real pressure, jeopardising the well-being of thousands of children.

Dr Max Davie, Officer for Health Promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said:

“The publication of these statistics further highlights the pressures mental health services are under in England today but what’s particularly concerning, is the fact that 56% of referrals came from primary schools.  

"Paediatricians working in the community have also noted a surge in referrals for emotional and behavioural difficulties, often once CAMHS have rejected the referral. 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. Coupled with that, all social care, youth justice and education professionals who work with children and young people must be equipped with the skills and knowledge to ensure children and young people with mental health needs get the support they need as early as possible. We call on Government to invest in these services now, thereby better safeguarding children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing as well as reducing the burden on the NHS."

The NSPCC is now calling on the Government with their ‘Are You There?’ campaign to invest some of this funding into early support services for children. The NSPCC’s Childline service has seen a 26% increase in the number of counselling sessions with children about mental health issues over the past four years.