CAMHS stands for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. It is also known as CYPMHS (Children and Young People Mental Health Services).
CAMHS are UK-wide NHS mental health services that focus on the needs of children and young people. They are multidisciplinary teams including psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, nurses, psychological therapists and mental health link workers.
CAMHS takes referrals of children up to 18 years of age, although in certain places it may be up to 16. CAMHS is designed to treat children and young people with the most severe and/or complex mental health difficulties, which accounts for 2% of children in your area.
Making a successful referral
What senior leaders can do
Establish a protocol with CAMHS in your area to clarify referral and joint working procedures. This may include:
- Agreeing how you might access advice and consultation. Many specialist CAMHS teams are happy to offer school staff and other professionals advice about potential referrals, which can save time and simplify the process.
- Finding out and documenting who can refer to specialist CAMHS. Some areas have an ‘open’ system of referral (which means that family members, children and young people, teachers, counsellors, social workers etc. can refer). Others have a system where only certain professionals can make a referral (e.g. schools nurses, GPs etc.).
- Finding out and documenting how children are referred. Some specialist services have a single doorway (or point of access called a SPA/SPOA) or an initial screen system (called triage) to determine whether a child’s needs are best met through a specialist CAMHS service.
- Agreeing an information-sharing protocol so that schools and families can work together and complement any treatment a child or family might be receiving.
- Agreeing a clearly documented partnership approach for helping support a child to maintain progress and ‘step down’ from specialist help when it ends.
- Exploring opportunities for joint training with CAMHS to develop partnership working and to problem-solve more effective support for local children.
A model of joint training between children and young people’s mental health services and schools
Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families runs a programme to improve partnership working between children and young people’s mental health services and schools, called the Link programme.
The programme trains a network of local school link workers and brings them together with local services supporting children’s mental health.
An evaluation of the programme pointed to improvements in knowledge of child mental health, local support activity and partnership working. Find out more about the Link programme.
What school staff can do
- Document evidence of the symptoms or behaviour that are causing concern. Daily monitoring diaries, which include information about time, place and duration of symptoms are useful for this.
- When making a referral from a school (or supporting another professional with a referral), keep information relevant and focus on the things that specialist CAMHS teams need to know, including:
- How much a child’s difficulties are interfering with day-to-day life and progress.
- How long a child has been struggling with symptoms/difficulties. Use your daily monitoring diaries to describe how mental health needs and behaviours affect daily functioning and learning.
- How many other difficulties and risks a child and family is facing.
- How much a child’s safety may be compromised by their mental health difficulties.
- Whether any other school-based or community support has been tried. For example, for behaviour difficulties this will mean thinking about whether parents have been helped with strategies to support their children.
- Carry out a strengths and difficulties questionnaire at an early stage. Both school staff and parents can complete one. Although not a diagnostic tool, it provides a useful way of working out the nature and severity of a child’s needs and what next steps to take. The results of this questionnaire should also be combined and considered together with parents/carers, the child’s own experience and school staff observations. Information gathered from this tool can also give school staff, parents/carers and mental health services a common language, understanding and reference point.
What happens if a referral isn't accepted?
Specialist CAMHS are designed to meet the needs of around 2% of children in your local area.
If they don’t accept a referral, they should provide a clear reason for their decision and give advice about what to do next, including:
- what other local services might best support a child, and
- the most effective things the school and family can do to support them.