CAMHS mental health services

9 mins read

This advice applies across the UK.

Also in this section: Mental health, autistic and learning disabled children (England only).

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

In this article

What are CAMHS?

CAMHS are 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 regions. In some areas, voluntary organisations and charities, schools and local authorities, as well as the NHS, provide CAMHS. NHS CAMHS teams are made up of nurses, therapists, psychologists, child and adolescent psychiatrists (medical doctors specialising in mental health), support works and social workers, and other professionals.

CAMHS are usually arranged by tiers or levels of support.

Tier 1 . Universal services: Initial concerns and include GPs and health visitors.

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

Tier 3. Specialist services: 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: Severe concerns and include day and inpatient services and crisis treatment services.

What kind of issues can CAMHS help with?

CAMHS support to children and young people experiencing difficulties with their behaviour or emotions. They help children finding it hard to cope with life at home or at school or in the wider world.

The types of problems CAMHS can help with include:

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

Some CAMHS assess and diagnose autism and ADHD as part of what is known as Neurodevelopmental pathways when there are emerging concerns about a child’s mood or behaviour.

In some areas, CAMHS includes a disability CAMHS service for children and young people.

What ages do CAMHS treat?

Some CAMHS work with children and young people up to the age of 18. 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, 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 with information on how to access their service and their eligibility criteria.

In some areas, parents and young people can self-refer directly. 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.

In other areas, you will need a referral from your GP, school or other professional. You or your child can tell the GP how they are feeling and your concerns. The GP may offer advice. If they think your child needs specialist help, they should refer them to CAMHS.

If your child already gets support from social services or the youth offending team, they may also be able to refer your child to CAMHS.

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

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

Before asking your GP or other professional for a referral, it may help to think about the following:

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 seeing children and young people they feel are in most urgent need. Waiting lists can be long.

Ask your GP what the waiting time is like in your area, or contact the CAMHS administrator directly.

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 worsens, discuss it with the professional making the referral. They may be able to ask CAMHS to treat the referral with greater 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 when getting CAMHS support?

Consent

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

Confidentiality

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. 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.

Complaints

All CAMHS have complaints procedures, and they should explain these to you. If you or your child are unhappy with anything about the support, 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 they 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 are in place.

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. They 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). 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 UK charity focussed on children’s and young people’s mental health with a parent helpline, information on medication, online support and an online guide to CAMHS.

The Mix (UK)

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.

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

Join a local support group, where you’ll meet other parents for emotional and practical support.

The local offer – England

All local authorities in England must publish and maintain a “local offer”. The local offer lists all the local support available to families of children and young people with 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

Scotland’s national mental health charity.