Rising rates of mental health disorders among children are linked to council budget cuts and health restructurings that have denied vulnerable young people early help, the Children’s Commissioner has told MPs.
Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said more children and young people with mental health problems were being admitted to adult psychiatric wards.
In written evidence to the Health Select Committee, which is holding an inquiry into the Children’s and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), she said: “It cannot be coincidental that the increasing concerns about child and adolescent mental health coincides with the biggest reconfiguration of health and social care services, reductions in preventative and early intervention budgets and local CAMHS budgets and therefore spending, in a generation.”
Dr Atkinson warned that “wholesale reductions on early intervention and prevention” as a result of “extensive” budget cuts will “inevitably” cause children to develop more complex conditions because their difficulty was not addressed sooner.
The committee announced its inquiry in February after Professor Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer, called for greater focus to be put on children’s mental health services.
One child in 10 has a mental health problem, meaning that an average of three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health condition, experts warned the committee. Three-quarters of these children never receive any treatment or support. Therefore, far too many children with poor mental health go on to become adults with poor mental health, said the Association of Educational Psychologists.
“Sadly it appears the large-scale cuts to local authority social care budgets have had a significant impact on children’s and adolescent mental health services,” the association said in its submission to the inquiry.
“Cuts have led to more children needing to travel hundreds of miles to receive treatment and an increasing number of under-18s with mental health problems in England are now being treated on adult psychiatric wards.”
Councils and health authorities have also submitted evidence to the inquiry, telling of the pressure their service is under because of cuts.
Solihull CAMHS warned it was witnessing an “unfolding crisis” in children’s mental health services. Stoke-on-Trent City Council and NHS Stoke Clinical Commissioning Group reported children and young people were seen with more complex issues affecting their emotional wellbeing – blaming benefit reform, local authority spending cuts, poor career prospects and bullying for the increase.
Norman Lamb, the minister for Care and Support, said: “I am committed to improving children and young people’s mental health, which is why we have invested £54m into improving the access to treatment.
“For the first time we have put mental health on a par with physical health and I am determined to make sure this is respected by the NHS.”