Barnsley has 280 people aged under 18 waiting at least six months to get treatment for meant health problems, councillors have been told, with a £300,000 a year project to provide more help in secondary schools failing to drive down demand for help.
Professionals from the mental health service appeared before councillors at a ‘scrutiny’ meeting, where services which involve the local authority are examined to assess their performance.
There have been a series of changes to the way mental health services for children and young people aged up to 18 are provided in the last few years, including the introduction of a service called My Space, which costs £300,00 a year to operate and runs at the town’s ten secondary schools.
But councillors were hostile after hearing access to that service has failed to stem demand for help from the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service, or CAHMS, in Barnsley.
They questioned the level of help available to children and parents as they await formal treatment to begin through CAHMS – which for many involves a wait of many months, or longer – and whether My Space was value for money.
After an hour-long grilling, councillors presented a catalogue of recommendations for when they next get an update on the service’s performance, after the professionals present were unable to answer some of their questions.
They include the idea that workshops should be established for parents, to give them the skills to help cope with children’s mental health problems while they wait for professional intervention and that more information about how to get help from different elements of the service is made more readily available.
Coun Malcolm Clements also asked that future reports were written in “plain English” after raising the criticism that the document they had been given used too many acronyms and provided irrelevant information, while failing to provide some of the detail councillors needed to know.
He had told the meeting: “The crux of the matter is that if someone wants to compare how the service was, where it should be, how we are going to get there, we will not get it from this report.”
The professionals who addressed the meeting included Dave Ramsay, deputy director of operations for South West Yorkshire NHS Partnership Foundation Trust, who confirmed: “We have 280 young people waiting more than six months for intervention. That is far too long.”
The meeting heard of one ten year old who had been a victim of sexual abuse who was left waiting for nine months after being referred for treatment.
He said My Space had been “evaluated extremely well as a service” but councillors questioned why the presence of that service in schools was not bringing down waiting lists for CAMHS referrals, which he put down to “a huge amount of unmet need” among school pupils, meaning the service resulted in more work rather than shrinking waiting lists.
However, councillors have asked for more work to explore how successful My Space really is in schools.
The meeting was told there is an ambition to move forwards to provide similar services to help primary aged children in future and a telephone ‘app’ is also being created, which should give children increased information about – and direct links to – services available to help those struggling with mental health issues.
It is expected to be another nine months before that is in service, however.
The possibility of providing a physical ‘hub’, possibly in the town centre, is also being explored. That would provide a base where young people could get more information about the help available to them, an acknowledgement that not all vulnerable young people have access to smartphones or the internet.
Councillors unanimously agreed to the recommendations, which meeting chairman Coun Jeff Ennis described as “Quite a batting list”.
*Barnsley's Youth Council has already raised the issue of the importance of good mental health services, with more than 1,000 youngsters surveyed in the town ranking it as their main priority.