Mental health services (CAMHS)

10 mins read

CAMHS stands for child and adolescent mental health services. CAMHS offer assessment and treatment for families where children and young people have emotional, behavioural or mental health difficulties.

If you’re looking for the contact details for your local CAMHS service, visit NHS England, NHS Direct Wales, or find out through your local council’s local offer if you live in England.

In this article

What are CAMHS?

CAMHS is a term for services that support children and young people who have difficulties with their emotional or behavioural wellbeing. CAMHS stands for child and adolescent mental health services. (Some areas are now using the term CYPMHS, which stands for children and young people’s mental health services.)

CAMHS can vary in different areas. They might be services provided by a voluntary organisation or charity, or a school or local authority, as well as the NHS.

CAHMS is usually arranged by tiers or levels of support.

Tier 1 . Universal services: Deal with initial concerns and include GPs and health visitors.

Tier 2. Targeted services: Deal with mild to moderate concerns and include school staff, educational psychologists, school counsellors.

Tier 3. Specialist services: Deal with moderate and severe concerns and include specialist multidisciplinary teams working in a community mental health settings. This tier includes psychiatry outpatient service and support for eating disorders.

Tier 4 – Specialised services: Deal with severe concerns and include day and inpatient services and crisis treatment services

What kind of issues can CAMHS help with?

CAMHS can offer support to children and young people if they are experiencing difficulties with their behaviour or emotions, or if they are finding it hard to cope with life in the family, at school or in the wider world.

The types of problems CAMHS can help with include:

  • Violent or angry behaviour.
  • Depression.
  • Eating difficulties.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Relationship problems.
  • Anxiety and phobias.
  • Obsessions and compulsions.
  • Sleep difficulties.
  • Self-harming.
  • The effects of abuse or traumatic events.

CAMHS can also diagnose and treat serious mental health problems such as:

  • Psychosis.
  • Bipolar disorder.
  • Schizophrenia.
  • Anorexia nervosa.

In some areas CAMHS can assess and confirm a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder or ADHD where there are emerging concerns around a child’s behaviour. And in some areas, specialist CAMHS may be available for children with specific learning disabilities or conditions.

What ages do CAMHS treat?

Some CAMHS work with children and young people up to the age of 18, but other services stop when a young people reaches 16, or will only work with a person aged 16-18 if they are in full-time education.

If your child is between 16 and 18 years old and outside the age remit of particular CAMHS services, they may need to receive adult mental health services. If your child is already receiving CAMHS but will shortly be above the age remit, CAMHS professionals should work closely with your child to support their transition to adult mental health services.

Who can make a referral to CAMHS?

Most CAMHS have their own website, which includes information about how to access their service and their eligibility criteria.

The most common way to get a referral is through your GP. You can discuss your worries about your child with the GP, or if your child is old enough and feels able to do so, they can see the GP themselves. The GP may offer advice. If they think your child needs specialist help, they should refer them to CAMHS. 

Depending on the local arrangements, your child’s school may also be able to refer your child to CAMHS. If your child is being supported by social services or the youth offending team, then they may also be able to refer your child to CAMHS.

Other professionals who may be able to make a referral to CAMHS include:

  • Teachers or other school staff.
  • Health visitors.
  • School nurses.
  • Youth counselling services.

Some local areas will accept referrals directly from parents or young people. But unless the situation is very urgent, you will usually be expected to have raised your concerns with your GP and/or child’s school before making the self-referral.

Things to think about if you’re considering asking for a referral

Before asking your GP or other professional for a referral to CAMHS for your child, you may want to ask yourself the following questions. This will help them understand more about your concerns and the impact your child’s difficulties are having on and your family.

  • When did the problems or worries start?
  • Is there a pattern to the behaviour? (Keeping a diary or log book will help you monitor this).
  • Have there been any difficult events within the family?
  • How does your child get on with brothers and sisters and other family members?
  • How is your child getting on at school?
  • How are your child’s friendships going?
  • Are there any general health problems, either now or in the child’s early years?
  • Has your family had help from other professionals?

See MindEd’s online learning module on ‘Speaking Up For Your Child‘ (England only) for advice on making sure professionals are taking your concerns seriously.’.

How long will it take to start receiving CAMHS services?

Most areas operate a waiting list. CAMHS usually prioritise children and young people they feel need to be seen urgently.

Ask your GP what the waiting time is like in your area, or contact the CAMHS service directly. You may need to contact the CAMHS administrator to find out about waiting times for initial assessments and waiting times for support from CAMHS professionals.

What can I do in the meantime?

Talk to your child, their teachers, your GP or others involved about strategies to help them while waiting. Below we have listed some additional sources of support

If your child’s mental health or behaviour is getting worse, discuss it with the professional making the referral. They may be able to contact CAMHS and ask for the referral to be treated with more urgency.

If your child needs urgent help and they’re not getting it, you can contact your NHS Trusts’ Patients Advisory Liaison Service (PALS). Look for details online or ask your GP. You can make a formal complaint if you feel you are not being offered help within a reasonable time.

While you’re waiting, it’s useful to continue gathering evidence about your child, for example by keeping a diary.

What rights do my child and I have if we are being supported by CAMHS?


The CAMHS staff must make sure both your child and you agree to accept the support they are offering and explain what other options there are if you do not agree with their suggestions.


The CAMHS staff must explain to you how and with whom they might share any information given by you or your child. Your child has the right to mention things in their sessions which are confidential from you, and equally you have the right to say things that are kept confidential from your child. However, if anyone at CAMHS is given information that someone is being harmed or is at risk of harm, they have a duty to break confidentiality.


All CAMHS services have complaints procedures, and these should be explained to you. If you or your child are unhappy with anything about the support offered, you have the right to talk to the CAMHS staff about it.

If you are still not happy, you can make a formal complaint. It’s best to make your complaint in writing. Each NHS Trust will have a Patients Advisory Liaison Service (PALS), which can provide guidance on raising your concerns and how to make a formal complaint.

Access to records

Your child has the right to see their medical records in most cases. They can ask their CAMHS worker informally or may need to make a formal request.

Support for particular needs

If you or your child needs particular support, for example an interpreter or for someone to come with you to meetings, you can ask for this when a referral is made. You can also check with CAMHS staff that arrangements have been made.

What if I can’t get a referral, CAMHS say they can’t help or that my child doesn’t meet the criteria?

Write to CAMHS asking why they’ve refused to see your child. The service should be clear about why your child doesn’t meet the criteria and should signpost you to other sources of support.

If your child needs urgent help and they’re not getting it, you can contact your NHS Trusts’ Patients Advisory Liaison Service (PALS). Look for details online or ask your GP. You can make a formal complaint if you feel you are not being offered help within a reasonable time.

You can also contact your local Healthwatch (England) or Health Watchdog (Wales) or and let them know about the difficulties you have in accessing support and services for your child. All local authorities in England have a Healthwatch. They can provide information about making complaints and can provide details of the local health advocacy service.

Other sources of support

YoungMinds (UK)

A charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people in the UK. They provide a parent helpline, information on medication and online support for children and young people. They also have an online guide to CAMHS, which explains the referral process and the professionals who may be involved with your child.

The Mix (UK)

The Mix is a charity providing support and information for under 25s.

MindEd (England only)

An online hub with information and resources for parents and carers as well as professionals.

Healthwatch (England) / Health Watchdog (Wales)

There is a Healthwatch in every local authority in England. The Wales equivalent is Health Watchdog. They gather views and experiences about local health services and can provide details of local advocacy services.

NHS – A Guide to Mental Health Services in England

Find out about CAMHS services in the NHS guide.

Child And Adolescent Mental Health Services: national service specification in Scotland

Find out about the provisions young people and their families can expect from NHS Scotland.

Parent support groups

Consider joining a local support group, where you’ll be able to meet other parents for emotional and practical support.

The local offer – England

The Children and Families Act requires all local authorities in England to publish and maintain a ‘Local Offer’. A Local Offer is a wide range of information about all the support and facilities which families can expect to find in their area, for children and young people who have special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities. 

Visit your local authority’s website to find their local offer.

CALL – Community Advice and Listening Line – Wales

CALL provides a free helpline for callers in Wales concerned about mental health. You can also search for local and national services on their website.

SAMH Scotland

SAMH is Scotland’s national mental health charity.