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Getting help: a guide for parents or carers

Getting help: a guide for parents or carers.

The first thing you may want to do is to ask yourself what kind of problem you are addressing. For example:

Autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disability.

All of these need specialist help and it is important to obtain a diagnosis to obtain such help. If your child’s difficulties are predominantly in school, you would liaise with their SENCO first. You could then request referral to the educational psychology service.

For difficulties affecting more than school, a referral to your local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) or Community Paediatricians would be required.

You might also access support from the local authority or independent services such as an independent child and adolescent psychiatrist. Specialist organisations such as the National Autistic Society also provide a lot of useful information and advice.

If you suspect mental health problems other than the above, for example, depression, anxiety in any of its various forms and eating difficulties. Including trauma-related effects from outside events, possibly from outside events that we may not know about.

Any of the above may be relevant, particularly CAMHS. Also specialists in 'talking therapies' such as counsellors, clinical psychologists, counselling psychologists, school nurses, or IAPT Services.

If you have concerns around behaviour, but with no particular mental health problem.

If the behaviour you are concerned about is restricted to school, the teachers and SENCO would be the best way to support your child.

For more generalised difficulties or problems at home, many ‘third sector’ organisations (for example charities and voluntary organisations) offer parenting support groups.

The local authority (social care) will also have support options they can offer you.

Sometimes it may be useful to exclude any conditions underlying the behaviour you’re concerned about (e.g. ADHD, see above) as these may be treated in their own right.

How to contact the specialists named.

Most services require a referral from a professional working with the child / young person, usually their GP but potentially a social worker, school nurse or SENCO too. Some areas are working towards self-referral, and this varies locally.

General practitioner. A GP is often a very good resource in that GPs tend to know who is available locally and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Sometimes there is one GP in a practice who has a particular interest in mental health, and it may be worth identifying that person.

Child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS). In most areas a referral is required rather than families being able to contact CAMHS directly. A complicating factor is that many CAMHS have a long waiting list and are often overstretched. Services will have criteria as to the conditions and severity of those conditions that they will see people with.

CAMHS usually have recommendations of services to contact for people not reaching their threshold, for example IAPT / wellbeing services (depending on the young person’s age and availability) and Early Intervention services that operate separately, often through charitable organisations.

Community Paediatricians, work with children with complex needs, behavioural conditions and concerns around development. Community paediatricians are part of the Health service, so you may be referred to community paediatrics when you are expecting CAMHS and vice versa. Referral is via your GP.

Independent child and adolescent psychiatrist. A good starting point is to ask your local CAMHS if they know of an independent child and adolescent psychiatrist (if the CAMHS waiting list is too long) or to contact an independent healthcare provider (Nuffield, Spire, etc) as many such providers will offer psychiatric services. Also to search online for 'child and adolescent mental health services' and see what independent providers appear: there are sometimes independent ‘co-operatives’ of psychiatrist, psychologists, nurses, etc.

Independent clinical psychologist, counselling psychologist, counsellors. As above, always being aware that the professional should have a specialist interest in children and adolescents. There may be charitable organisations offering counselling and therapy e.g. Relate, particularly around specific needs such as bereavement e.g. Cruse. The availability of these will vary locally.

IAPT Services (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies). Through a GP Practice or search online. Often, IAPT Services will only treat people over 16 or 18, but sometimes there is an IAPT for younger people.

The Local Authority – Social Care. The thought of social services often causes families anxiety, or fear of blame, because of their child protection and safeguarding work. However, social services offer a range of help as part of their ‘Early Help’ or similarly named service particularly for families and young people, including help around behaviour, relationships and risky behaviour. Search online for your local area social services early help, e.g. ‘Cambridgeshire social services early help’.

Online. There’s a huge amount of information and support via websites and apps of varying quality available. Kooth.com is an online counselling service that is used by the NHS (it is free for some to access as long as it is commissioned and paid for by the trust in your area). Young Minds have a lot of information for young people as well as support for parents.


Please note: We include links we believe to be helpful, but even so we can’t of course guarantee the quality of content or service offered by outside agencies.

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