Deterioration in mental health of children waiting for Camhs referral, survey finds

Report by advocacy group details experiences of families seeking access to supports

The report found that 92 per cent of families surveyed said their child’s mental health deteriorated during the referral process to Camhs. Photograph: iStock

The majority of children who accessed the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (Camhs) in Ireland last year suffered a deterioration of their mental health during the referral process, a survey by an advocacy group for families has found.

The report by Families for Reform of Camhs, which will be released on Thursday, details the experiences of families who have attended or are trying to access the services.

A survey by Families for Reform of Camhs received responses from 736 families and found 92 per cent of them said their child’s mental health deteriorated during the referral process.

Some 43 per cent took additional steps to get their child’s referral to Camhs accepted, such as getting a private diagnosis, seeking political support from a local politician, going to A&E, not mentioning an existing diagnosis or going public with their experience.


For those who had their referrals to Camhs accepted, some 8 per cent of children were discharged at triage on the first appointment, 10 per cent were discharged after three appointments with Camhs, and 13 per cent of children were discharged after six appointments.


The non-funded group carried out a survey in April this year and received 736 responses, 445 were group members and 291 were non-members representing the experiences of children and young people across Ireland.

In response to the report, the HSE said it was “sorry to those young people and families who have had a poor experience in trying to access services”.

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“Camhs is a specialist clinical service for people under 18 with moderate to severe mental health difficulties. It is not for everyone; only a small percentage [approximately 2 per cent] of the population would require access to this service,” the HSE spokeswoman said.

However, the HSE said it has “made Camhs and youth mental health service improvement a priority in recent years”.

Gráinne Finucane has two children who are under the care of Camhs.

Her daughter was referred when she was six years old for anxiety and self-injurious behavior. Her son has been under the care of Camhs for four years and was referred during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Her son, aged 15, has autism and felt so distressed during the Covid-19 pandemic that he could not go to school. He had made plans to take his own life and came to his parents for help. He was then referred to Camhs after going through the GP and A&E.

Ms Finucane explained how her children were dismissed time and time again at Camhs as they claimed there were not enough resources. She was told to take her children home, to not leave them alone, and lock away any sharp objects and medication.

“They [Camhs] told me he’s not depressed and suicidal, it’s just his autism,” she said.

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“My children were brave enough to come forward, its not easy to say you are struggling, and there is no help for them.”

“As a mother you feel helpless and like a failure,” she said.

Jenny Flaherty is also a member of the Families for Reform of Camhs group and took part in the survey.

Her daughter, aged 11, was diagnosed with autism, intellectual disabilities such as ADHD, anxiety and oppositional defiant disorder and epilepsy in the United Kingdom.

Jenny and her family moved home to Leitrim after the Covid-19 pandemic.

She explained how in 2022, Camhs set up an intellectual disability unit, meaning that children with intellectual disabilities can only attend Camhs ID. “There was 16 regions but now only five regions have a partial team. Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal have no team,” she said.

“It feels like discrimination against her, like shouting into a void.

“You shouldn’t have to put a sad story forward to shock people into helping.”

Ms Flaherty explained how the group has validated her experience and been a constant support to her.

“It’s so important families find the group,” she said.