#ChildrensMentalHealthWeek: the funding chaos behind the hashtag

2022’s Children’s Mental Health Week is running from 7-13 February, hoping to draw attention to young people’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay
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LONDON (Bywire News) -  In reality, the state of funding and provision of Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in England is what should be the week’s focus – because the system is at breaking point; as are so many of its patients. 

CAMHS was already in crisis before the coronavirus pandemic. For example, between 2010 and 2014 the government and local authorities cut £85m of CAMHS funding. In 2018/19, 60% of local authorities had cut early mental health intervention services for children and young people. By 2019, the NHS was reportedly turning away 150 young people a day who needed treatment. In 2019/20, doctors referred over half a million young people to CAMHS – a 35% increase on 2018/19, and almost 60% on 2017/18. Meanwhile, the waiting time for treatment was on average nearly two months: double the government’s target. 

Then, coronavirus fully hit – and the situation became even more desperate. 

Referrals to CAMHS exploded even further. Between April and June 2021, doctors referred over 190,000 young people into these services – a 134% increase on the same period in 2020, and a 96% increase on 2019’s figures.

One study found that at least 1.5 million children “may need new or additional mental health support as a result of the pandemic”. Yet now, only 32% of children who need mental health services can actually access treatment, and hospital bed numbers specifically for CAMHS have fallen by 20%.

Looking at specific areas, eating disorder services stood out. Between April and October 2021, over 4,300 people under the age of 17 had a hospital admission relating to this. Again, this was a surge: up 41% in 2020 and 69% in 2019. 

Demographically, LGBTQIA+ young people are disproportionately affected by mental health: 41% report mental distress (compared to 16% of their heterosexual peers); for self-harm, the figures were 56% to 24%. Meanwhile, a shocking 92% of trans young people said they had considered taking their own lives. Ethnicity is also a factor, with the Centre for Mental Health saying that support for young Black men is “less welcoming, less understanding and less accessible”.

But one of the biggest drivers around a worsening of children and young people’s mental health is poverty. As a parliamentary briefing paper noted:

“Findings have consistently demonstrated that socio-economic circumstances are strongly predictive of children and young people’s wellbeing… the most disadvantaged 40% have almost twice the rates of attempted suicide (almost 12%) when compared with those with higher family incomes (around 6%)”.

So, you’d think given the explosion in demand on CAMHS that the government would be reacting accordingly with funding. Predictably, this doesn’t seem to be the case. 

In 2015, the government pledged £1.4bn for CAMHS. Then, during the pandemic, the government pledged another £79m in 2021/22 for it, as well as an additional £40m and £17m for mental health initiatives in schools. But this comes against a backdrop of previous cuts. As well as government and local authority cuts of £85m between 2010 and 2014, the Local Government Association reported that as of January 2022:

“Government funding for the Early Intervention Grant has been cut by almost £1bn."

"Public health funding, which funds school nurses and public mental health services, have seen a £700m real terms reduction in funding between 2014/15 and 2020/21 – a fall of almost a quarter (23.5 per cent) per person”.

All this combined makes the true extent of overall government CAMHS cuts since 2010 difficult to quantify. But on local and specialist levels, some councils and the government are still reducing funding. 

For example, in June 2021 Lewisham council reduced its cuts to CAMHS by £100,000 – still leaving £150,000 wiped off the services. And in January 2022, the Stoke-on-Trent council decided to cut £60,000 from its CAMHS budget. Then, the government has cut funding of addiction services for under-18s by 41% in real terms between 2013/14 and 2020-21, with a corresponding 23% drop in people getting treatment - the largest fall since records began. 

Overall, a bleak picture of CAMHS emerges. Despite years of government promises of parity coupled with financial support, the services are still a postcode lottery and a predictable, pandemic-led increase in demand has failed to have been matched by an increase in resources. So, during Children’s Mental Health Week, while raising awareness and positive messaging is important - people also need to be highlighting the very real risk to children’s and young people’s lives that desperate under-funding of CAMHS is causing. 

(Written by Steve Topple, edited by Klaudia Fior)

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