A vital helpline offered by the UK's leading children's mental health charity is facing closure after the Government cut its budget.
The YoungMinds Parents' Helpline, which offers free support to adults concerned about the mental health of a child or young person, has existed for more than 20 years but could be forced to close as soon as April if its funding targets are not reached.
YoungMinds has launched a crowdfunding campaign to save the service. It hopes to raise £20,000 from the public before Christmas Day but it needs £500,000 to keep the helpline running. The charity has so far raised around £200,000 through charitable donations and community fundraising.
The parents' helpline is run by 19 professional advisers, four full-time staff and 30 volunteers. It answers around 10,000 calls from concerned adults every year, but YoungMinds says it is unable to cope with recent increases in demand. Since September the number of calls to the helpline has more than doubled from around 2,000 to 4,500.
For the past few years YoungMinds has received substantial funding from the Department for Education, but it has been told this money is no longer available due to government budget cuts.
Lucie Russell, the charity's director of campaigns, said YoungMinds was currently able to answer only about 30 per cent of the calls it received from parents, because the helpline was "running on very reduced budgets and experiencing unprecedented demand".
"The calls have been going up so fast we wouldn't be able to keep up the number of staff. If we invested in more staff and volunteers that would mean we would be able to answer more calls and respond at a higher rate," she said. "This is about helping families in distress before the problem becomes a crisis. The helpline is there because mental health is in crisis anyway."
Sarah Brennan, the chief executive of YoungMinds, said the Parents Helpline acted as a vital bridge between families and mental health services. "Often the parents, when they are given guidance, find that is enough for them," she said. "There is such a confusion about what the services are and parents are desperate for help."
The charity has been told it must apply for further government grants through the £25m National Prospectus Grants Programme but Ms Brennan said there was no guarantee it would be successful. "Hundreds of organisations will have applied for funding and it is an open competition," she said. "Even if we are successful we might not get all of [the money]. There's no guarantee."
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "YoungMinds is one of several projects that received one-off family support funding for two years from 2013 to 2015, to provide for some of our most vulnerable people and their families. We are now considering applications for a new £25m wave of grants that will fund a wider range of voluntary sector projects from April 2015. For the first time this programme will include a specific focus on mental health projects in recognition of the vital services they provide."
To help the advice line, go to www.youngminds.org.uk