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Young people with serious mental health problems will be harmed by government plans to boost services in schools for troubled children, ministers are being warned.

Those aged under 18 who self-harm or are at risk of suicide are among those with complex conditions who could lose out on vital help because of proposals outlined in a recent green paper to tackle the crisis in young people’s mental health, according to psychotherapists who work with children.

The Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP) has criticised the plans as “inadequate”, based on “false assumptions” and likely to produce a number of “adverse consequences and failures”.

The ACP fears that hard-pressed NHS child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) will struggle even more to keep up with a fast-rising demand for care if they are given the job of supervising the new mental health support teams (MHSTs) in schools envisaged in the green paper. Understaffing means that many children wait a long time to start receiving CAMHS care.

“Our key concern is that the already stretched resources in child mental health will be used to support new services in schools instead of, rather than as well as, the specialist NHS services that are required for the most vulnerable and ill children,” said Dr Nick Waggett, the ACP’s chief executive.

“Specialist clinicians and services are already being downgraded and we fear the green paper will accelerate this so that we end up with a very limited service in schools with no backup from more qualified and experienced colleagues in the NHS.

“The problem is that the proposals assume there are enough qualified staff in CAMHS to supervise the new staff in schools, to treat those children referred from schools to the NHS, and to bring down the waiting time to four weeks. There aren’t,” Waggett added.

At present CAMHS teams care for children suffering with the most serious problems, including emotional trauma and eating disorders, as well as behavioural disorders and suicidal thoughts.

The support teams, made up of counsellors but overseen by CAMHS professionals, are expected to treat pupils with lower-level problems, such as anxiety, bullying and depression, though the proposals state that they could also support “all children and young people, including the most vulnerable”.

In a response to the government’s consultation on the green paper, the ACP, which represents about 1,000 child psychotherapists working in CAMHS services, warns that the plans “risk causing harm to the groups identified as being most in need, as well as being ineffective”.

The Department of health and Social Care dismissed the ACP’s warnings. “These suggestions don’t take into account our wider plans to expand mental health services in this country – one the biggest expansion of services in Europe.

 

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