17 Jun 2019

Children and young people with mental health issues are being turned away from NHS services and up to 110,000 are missing out on treatment in a year, according to new figures by The Children’s Society. 

The report, Finding Help - Children, Young People and Families Navigating the System, based on Freedom of Information responses from 26 mental health trusts across England, estimates that up to 110,000 10-17 year olds seeking help are being turned away because their problems were not deemed ‘serious’ enough. Worryingly, it means that due to high treatment thresholds many young people may never have their needs addressed and are more likely to reach crisis point.   
The report also finds that a third (32%) of parents of children between the ages of 4 and 17 said their child had been affected by a mental health issue in the last year and 2 in 5 of those parents had sought help but not received any support.  Many of these children will likely have had problems with their emotional and mental health that were not diagnosable conditions or would not have met clinical thresholds but parents were still concerned about these issues to report them in the survey or seek help. 

Two in three parents (64%) surveyed said that if they were concerned about their child’s mental health they would initially go to their GP to seek help.  However, due to high thresholds for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) they may not qualify for treatmentJust under a third of parents were unaware if counselling was available in their child’s school.  

Based on a Freedom of Information request the charity estimates that as many as 185,000 young people aged 10-17 were referred to specialist mental health services in 2017 and only 79,000 receivetreatment in the same yearAs a result, around 60% of those referred, or almost 110,000 children, are not receiving care for their mental health problems*. 
For those children with the most serious need NHS waiting times remain stubbornly high with children waiting the equivalent of a school term, an average 12 weeks (or 83 days), from referral to treatment when the current waiting time standard is four weeks. The report found in some areas children experiencing issues such as anxiety, depression and self-harm are having to wait much longer - up to 364 days from referral to first treatment.  
The Government is piloting more mental health support in schools but as little as one fifth of the country will benefit from the planned pilot schemes,meaning the current postcode lottery will continue for the foreseeable future.  

The Children’s Society is urging the government to make it a mandatory requirement for Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to provide mental health support in every school and college in the country for children with low to moderate mental health needs, as well as support within the community through services like open access hubs and digital offers, to ensure young people are able to access support at an early stage.  
Sam Royston, Director of Policy and Research at The Children’s Society, said: “It’s a scandal that so many children and young people are suffering with their mental health are not getting the support they need, either by being deemed too well for treatment, having to wait many months, or having no early intervention alternatives available, meaning they are likely to become more unwell and hit crisis point. 

The NHS estimates that one in eight children are experiencing mental ill health, but we see that as many as one in three parents have been worried about their child’s mental health over the last year Families are reliant on their GP and schools for help but a third of parents don’t even know if their school can offer any mental health support so are often going to the wrong places, getting rejected because they aren’t meeting treatment thresholds and are receiving no further advice or guidance.  

For those young people with the most serious need NHS waiting times for CAMHS remain shockingly high and we urge the government to ensure all children and young people can get immediate help when they need it - at their school or at a local community drop-in centre so they have an opportunity to talk about how they are feeling and not made to suffer in silence.” 

Media enquiries 

For more information or an interview, please call The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422, 07775 812 357 or email media@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508. 

Notes to Editors: 

  • The Children’s Society’s report is based on responses to Freedom of Information requests sent to 63 mental health providers in England. 26 providers responded (response rate of 41%) for areas that serve 45% of the 10-17 year old population in England. The data covers the year 1 January – 31 December 2017. 


  • Of the areas that responded to the FOI approximately 83,000 referrals were made in 2017 and 35,000 children received treatment in that year. Using ONS population estimates for the number of 10-17 year olds in England we estimate that as many as 185,784 young people aged 10-17 were referred to specialist mental health services with approximately 78,847 going on to receive treatment that year.    


  • The report also includes a survey of 1,004 parents commissioned by The Children’s Society in August 2018 carried out by Opinium – a randomly generated sample of parents with children of school age (4-17yrs). 


  • * The figure 110,000 relates to children and young people referred for mental health treatment in 2017 but not receiving it that year. We would expect approximately one in four of these children to have gone onto receive treatment the following calendar year due to long waiting times.  However, we would also expect a similar number of children receiving treatment in 2017 who had been referred in 2016.   

  • Specialist mental health services are known as CAMHS (Tier 3) services. They provide a range of support for young people with more severe, complex and persistent needs. Professionals who provide the services may include therapists, psychotherapists, psychologists, social workers and Youth Offending Teams. They are normally commissioned by Clinical Commissioning Groups and are often based in the local community. In most areas, only those professionals formally working with the young person such as their GP, school or social services can make referrals into these services. 

  • The Children’s Society is a national charity that works with the most vulnerable children and young people in Britain today. We listen. We support. We act. Because no child should feel alone.