Skip to main content

Finding Help

This briefing explores the processes children, young people and their parents/carers go through when they decide they need support with the mental and emotional challenges they are experiencing. 

Number of pages:

16 pages

Date published:


The challenges facing children and young people who need support with their mental and emotional health are well rehearsed. Lack of services, long waiting times, and high thresholds can all conspire to make life very difficult for many of the one in eight children and young people aged 5 to 19 in England who have a mental health difficulty.

For this short briefing we wanted to better understand the processes children and young people, their parents and carers go through when they decide that they need to seek help with the mental and emotional health challenges they are experiencing. Who do they ask for help? Where do they go? What is their experience when they get there?

To do this we have brought together data from two primary sources:

  • A survey of 1,004 parents, commissioned by The Children’s Society in August 2018. Parents were asked a small number of questions relating to their child’s mental health, where they might go for help if there was a problem, and the availability of support in their child’s school.
  • A Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted to 63 NHS providers of Tier 3/specialist Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services (NHS CYPMHS) in England in May 2018. The FOI asked about children and young people’s (aged 10 to 17 inclusive) access to services and waiting times for the period 1 January and 31 December 2017. Of the total responses received, some were excluded on a question by question basis where there were gaps in the data, or where we were unable to attain population data, so a full analysis couldn’t be carried out. Therefore, overall:
    • 25 providers responded fully to questions relating to referrals to NHS CYPMHS. 26 providers responded fully to questions relating to waiting times to NHS CYPMHS.
    • 25 providers responded fully to questions relating to referrals to NHS CYPMHS. 26 providers responded fully to questions relating to waiting times to NHS CYPMHS.

To note, different providers responded to the questions on referrals and waiting times therefore analysis of these responses was treated independently.


  • It should be a mandatory requirement for CCGs to provide mental health support for schools and colleges for children with low to moderate mental health needs. The Government should put this requirement in place as soon as the initial waves of pilots for the Mental Health Support Teams are completed. There should be national coverage for this service within five years of the requirement being introduced.
  • The majority of parents and carers prefer to seek help from their GP when they have a concern about their child’s mental health. CCGs and GP surgeries should consult with parents and with children and young people to identify the strengths and weaknesses of GP support on offer in their area and respond accordingly.
  • In our survey, more than three in ten parents had been concerned about their child’s mental health in the last year. Local Public Health officials must prioritise work with parents to communicate key messages about how to support children’s mental health to all parents in their local area.
  • The data gathered using FOIs to NHS Trusts highlights the poor quality of data that the NHS can provide on CYPMH Services. As part of the new five year plans CCGs are submitting to NHS England under the new Long Term Plan arrangements they should identify priority improvements they wish to see in their datasets and work with partners to implement these.
  • Children are waiting an average of 83 days before they start receiving treatment from NHS CYPMHS. NHS Trusts are often very cautious about publishing their waiting times, or even communicating them to children who are on the waiting list already. We believe this should change. Children and young people would prefer to know the reality of the situation they are in so that they can work out, with support from the NHS, their GP, family, friends, and others, how they will keep themselves as safe and as well as possible whilst they wait.
  • Providing mental health support in schools will significantly increase access to services but it will not reach all children and young people. We recommend that CCGs are also required to have open access community services to ensure that all young people can have timely access to low level mental health support.
  • Many CCGs already have a digital offer around emotional and mental health for children in their area but not all do. This should be a major priority for CCGs who lack this important service.
  • Local areas should work together, across the local authority, CCG and with wider partners to ensure that youth workers, sports coaches, uniformed group leaders, faith and community leaders are all properly trained in mental health first aid for children and young people.

Full report

If you'd like more information, read the full Finding Help briefing.