Barnardo’s has been slammed by councillors after it was revealed youngsters have had to wait months on end to access mental health services.
An early intervention service has been delivered in St Helens by Barnardo’s since 2015, after being commissioned by St Helens Council and St Helens Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
According to a new council report on Children’s Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in St Helens, some children and young people wanting to access the Barnardo’s service have had to wait up to nine months for support.
The service was changed in the summer after clearing the waiting list, and now offers an initial appointment upon referral, usually within three weeks of referral.
However, children in need of individual therapy can still wait up to eight months, the report says.
The report was presented to the council’s children and young people’s services overview and scrutiny panel this week.
Coun Susan Murphy, Billinge and Seneley Green, said: “It’s really sad to read this report given the changes that were implemented in 2015.
“And we are still failing these children, there’s no doubt about that at all.
“It is very worrying to me the level of times children are waiting to get into these services.”
While children are on the waiting lists for individual therapy, they are offered monthly check-ins where their conditions are monitored.
Coun Murphy said this is still not sufficient, saying children should be seen as soon as they require help.
Coun Murphy said: “The children should be being seen. I would question what support they’re offering monthly to these families.
“If children should be referred into the service, they need the help there and then.”
The council report says the strain on services can be attributed to the increase in demand.
Based on national data it was expected there would be around 1,200 children and young people access mental health services in St Helens every year.
However, the actual figure for 2017-18 was 1,900 – 58 per cent higher than the prediction.
Coun Nova Charlton, chairman of the scrutiny panel, said demand on CAMHS is “ever-increasing”.
“The fact that we’re 700 out on our numbers is just astonishing, it’s quite frightening,” she said.
Barnardo’s told the Local Democracy Reporter Service that the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people is of “paramount importance”.
A Barnardo’s spokesman said: “Sadly, we recognise that increased demand for CAMHS services and longer waiting lists are a national issue which we are also experiencing locally.
“The Barnardo’s service offers support to children and young people with low to moderate mental health needs but always prioritise those coming to the service with the highest need.
“Sadly, this means that some children have to wait longer for our service, but we offer assessment and continued support to their carers whilst they are on the waiting list.
“As the scrutiny report indicates, the demand for mental health support for children and young people in St Helens is significant.
“We also have to acknowledge that needs will not be met through one service.
“It is vital that as well as agency support, children and young people receive support from school and home when dealing with mental health issues.
“This is something we also enable through our service.”
From January 2019, Barnardo’s will become a sub-contractor of North West Boroughs Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (NWB).
NWB has been commissioned to provide mental health services in St Helens following the implementation of the council’s new social care model, St Helens Cares.
Coun Murphy said: “The concern I have, we’re commissioning North West Boroughs to do this work and they’re subcontracting the work out to Barnardo’s, that have failed our authority.”
The panel agreed to hold a further meeting with the CCG, NWB and Barnardo’s to express their concerns about the service and the arrangements going forward.
Sue Forster, the council’s director of public health, told the panel that NWB will have the major part of the contract but will still sub-contract to Barnardo’s.
Ms Forster said it will be NWB’s responsibility to ensure Barnardo’s “deliver” on the service and said the council will hold the NHS trust to account through the contract monitoring process.
Coun Murphy said: “We need to monitor this very, very closely because it’s just not good enough to fail the children.”
Eccleston ward councillor Teresa Sims, leader of the St Helens Liberal Democrat group, said she was “very concerned” adding that it was “crucial” the council monitors the situation closely.
A Barnardo’s spokesman said: “St Helens Council, alongside Barnardo’s and the Clinical Commissioning Group, are proactively working to improve the lives of children and young people experiencing mental health issues, with the Barnardo’s service designed to support those in moderate need.
“We will continue to work closely with our partners and commissioners in our bid to ensure that all children get the support they need at the right time.
“We are pleased to report that a recent survey of those who use the service showed that 100 per cent of children and young people felt listened to and 77 per cent said they would recommend the service to a friend.”