Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS)

Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) refers to all services that work with children and young people experiencing emotional, behavioral or mental health difficulties.

CAMHS professionals are tasked with identifying the problem, understanding the causes and advising about what steps to take moving forward. While these services are targeted at children and young people, parents and carers may also require advice and guidance and can receive support directly through CAMHS.

The March 2015 Future in mind report established a clear consensus on how to prioritise and improve children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Despite increased investment, the service is under great strain to meet growing demand.

There is no set age that Children and Young People transition from CAMHS to adult services, with some moving at age 16, while others might not happen until age 18 or older.

How is CAMHS structured?

CAMHS is a multi-agency service to ensure it is flexible and responsive to a locality’s needs and, as a result, a multi-agency approach to commissioning is required. Local areas have a number of different support systems available to them, from an NHS trust, local authority, school or charitable organisation. 

The multidisciplinary team of child mental health professionals usually include:

  • child and adolescent psychiatrists 
  • psychologists 
  • child psychotherapists
  • social workers 
  • nurses
  • family therapists 
  • support workers 
  • occupational therapists 
  • psychological therapists 
  • primary mental health link workers 
  • specialist substance misuse workers.

CAMHS are organised around a four-tier system:

  • Tier 1 – non-mental health specialists working in general services providing general advice and treatment for less severe problems 
  • Tier 2 - usually CAMHS specialists working in community and primary care.
  • Tier 3 - usually a multi-disciplinary team or service working in a community mental health clinic providing a specialised service for more severe disorders.
  • Tier 4 – highly specialist services for children and young people with serious problems.

How do I access my local CAMHS service?

The process of getting help from a CAMHS service depends on where you live – this applies to waiting times as well. Due to the variation in service provision across the country, a good starting point for guidance is each CAHMS website, which will have information about access, referrals and contact details. Your child will still need to be referred by a professional.

You may also find it helpful to speak to:

  • your GP
  • someone at school or college – for example, a teacher, school nurse or special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO)
  • health visitors
  • children's centres.