The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) is the name for the NHS provided services in the United Kingdom for children who are having difficulties with their emotional or behavioural well-being. CAMHS services are organised locally, and the exact services provided may vary, often by local government area.
In the UK CAMHS are organised around a four tier system:
General advice and treatment for less severe problems by non-mental health specialists working in general services, such as GPs, school nurses, social workers, and voluntary agencies.
Usually CAMHS specialists working in community and primary care, such as mental health workers and counsellors working in clinics, schools and youth services.
Usually a multi-disciplinary team or service working in a community mental health clinic providing a specialised service for more severe disorders, with team members including psychiatrists, social workers, board certified behaviour analysts, clinical psychologists, psychotherapists and other therapists.
Highly specialist services for children and young people with serious problems, such as day units, specialised outpatient teams and in-patient units.
Experiences of CAMHS vary widely and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to this – staff turnover, waiting times, key workers, acceptance of various conditions (particularly Attachment and Developmental Trauma) all seem to colour families’ experiences, and depending on who you are in conversation with, CAMHS can be heroes or villains.
The Young Minds website gives comprehensive information about CAMHS in England and has been cited as a great source of support for families needing to access CAMHS services.
The NHS site explains the core functions of CAMHS. It has some useful video interviews which explain what CAMHS provides and has pages for both parents and carers and children and young people – the latter being particularly useful for preparing young people for their CAMHS appointment.
If you are wondering what questions to ask CAMHS, take this page with you when you talk to your healthcare provider about treatment, or use it as a starting point for your own list of questions.
The Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health has a very comprehensive website which has clear guidance on access to and referral to CAMHS. It also has information about what is ‘In the Pipeline’ for CAMHS in England, Wales and Scotland. This website also useful events countrywide related to Young People’s mental health.
Skybadger is where you’ll find tonnes of organisations with information, advice and support for children’s mental health.