Mother and daughter having a serious talk on the sofa

Parents' guide to CAMHS

What is CAMHS or CYPMHS?

A mother reassures her son by putting her hand on his head

CAMHS is a free NHS service that helps children and young people with emotional, behavioural and mental health difficulties.

The service provides support and treatment, including individual and family therapy, medication, staying in hospital (inpatient care) and parenting support courses. CAMHS teams also diagnose neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism and ADHD (though in some areas this may be through paediatric teams instead).

CAMHS teams include psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, nurses, social workers and other professionals who specialise in working with children and families. Our glossary explains the different roles.

The newer term CYPMHS may also be used. This includes CAMHS and non-NHS organisations supporting children with emotional wellbeing and mental health in your area, such as charities, schools and local authorities. On this page we will use the term CAMHS.

What kinds of problems can CAMHS help with?

CAMHS offers support for a wide range of emotional and behavioural difficulties, neurodevelopmental and mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, self-harm, violent or angry behaviour, eating disorders, the effects of abuse or trauma, obsessions and compulsions, psychosis, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

For more information about these and other conditions, take a look at our A-Z mental health guide.

Parents A-Z mental health guide

How to get help from CAMHS

Each local area has its own CAMHS service, which is run by a local team. To get help from your local CAMHS, your child or young person will usually need to be referred by a professional. This is often done by a GP after a GP appointment. But you can also ask your child's school, health visitor, or youth or social worker to make a referral. Self-referrals, made by you or your young person, are also accepted in some areas.

Your local CAMHS service will have its own contact details and information about how referrals work in your area. To find this, go to your CAMHS website or ask your GP or child's school for their contact details. 

If CAMHS accepts your referral, your child and you (if your child is under 16) will be invited to an assessment with your local CAMHS team. It's worth understanding that there is often a waiting list for both assessment and treatment.

When asking for a referral, it can help to:

  • Give detailed information

    Give the referring professional as much information as possible, including how long your child’s difficulties have lasted; how they affect their day-to-day life (education, sleep, eating and relationships); and other relevant experiences such as family bereavement or separation.

  • Share professional evidence

    You can ask other professionals working with your child, such as the school Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO), to write a letter supporting the referral with more information and context.

  • Check the referral pathway

    Ask what the referral is for, where it will go and for the contact details. For instance, is it for a neurodevelopmental assessment (e.g. for autism or ADHD) or another issue?

Undertstanding waiting lists

Parents often tell us waiting lists for CAMHS are very long and that they do not have information about when their child will be seen. Understandably, this can be worrying and frustrating. 

Waiting lists for both assessment and treatment vary by area, and the most urgent cases are prioritised. You can contact your local service to check whether your child’s referral has arrived and to ask for an update on waiting times.

NHS guidelines aim for all non-urgent referrals to be assessed within six weeks, with treatment offered within 18 weeks. Young people with psychosis should be seen within two weeks. Those with eating disorders should be seen within four weeks (or within one week if urgent, and within 24 hours in an emergency). In reality these targets may be missed, but you may find it helpful to be aware of them.

Always tell your GP and CAMHS if your child’s mental health worsens while on the waiting list, as they may need to be seen more quickly.

How to find urgent help in a crisis

  • If your child is having a mental health crisis and needs urgent help now, find out who to contact on our urgent help page.

    If your child’s life is at risk, or if it does not feel like they’re safe, please call 999 for an ambulance or take them straight to A&E.

I wanted help for my daughter immediately. I was shocked and frightened at having to wait a long time, as was she. Exploring resources and feeling we were doing something really helped us as parents to cope as well.
a parent
One of my yoga teachers was running a weekend retreat for mums and teenage daughters. It didn’t fix the underlying issues (CAMHS did eventually), but it did give my daughter valuable coping strategies while waiting for her CAMHS appointment.
a parent

What to expect from a CAMHS assessment

The initial appointment, with one or more of the CAMHS team, usually lasts around one hour and takes place in the CAMHS clinic. Assessments may be virtual, so let CAMHS know if this will be difficult for you or your child. You can request an interpreter if you or your child is not confident speaking English.

Depending on your child’s age and wishes, the CAMHS professionals will speak to you and your child together and/or separately. If your child is 16 or over, the CAMHS team will ask your child if they want you to be present. Teenagers sometimes find it easier to talk openly about their mental health without a parent so try not to take this decision personally. 

The team may want to observe your child while they play or undertake an activity. Information from other professionals who have worked with your child (such as teachers, school SENCO, GP or social worker) will also be considered.

At the assessment the CAMHS team may ask about:

  • the difficulties your child is having and when they started
  • their impact on your child’s daily life and on your family
  • your child’s mood
  • any patterns in their emotions or behaviour
  • your child’s developmental history
  • medical history and any previous mental health issues
  • family life and friendships
  • school
  • traumatic experiences such as bereavement, separation, abuse or other difficulties
  • involvement with other agencies, such as social services or Early Help
  • what your child and you think might help

Preparing for a CAMHS assessment

It's a good idea to do some preparation together with your child before going to the assessment. This can help to reduce worries, make you both feel more in control, and make sure CAMHS gets a detailed picture about your child's needs. 

Here are some tips to help you get ready:

Explain why they are seeing CAMHS and what to expect.  Listen to any concerns they have about their mental health or about CAMHS. Try to talk positively and calmly, emphasising how this process should help them feel better. Your child may find it helpful to read our young person's guide to CAMHS.

Young person's guide to CAMHS

Make notes on the question areas listed in the 'what happens at a CAMHS assessment' section of this page. A diary of a typical and/or bad day can be helpful. List questions you want to ask, for instance on waiting times, types of therapy or medication and length of treatment, as it is easy to forget things during an appointment.

Understand that getting help may be very hard for your child. If they struggle to articulate their thoughts or engage, suggest they make notes or text their concerns to you. If possible, agree on the most important points. Encourage them to speak for themselves, but offer to do so for them if they can’t. Our guide has suggestions for helping young people to talk about their mental health.

How to talk to your child about mental health

CAMHS may ask you, your child or their teachers to fill in questionnaires in advance.

Continue to collect relevant information from school or other professionals while you wait for assessment.

Several professionals may be involved in supporting your child. Our glossaries about the roles of different mental health professionals and some of the language that may be used may make the process seem less intimidating or confusing.


Leave plenty of time to get to the assessment and make sure you have any paperwork you need, to reduce anxiety for you and your child.

Three people sitting on a sofa chatting.

Young people tell us they would like their parents and carers to:

  • listen and trust that their child knows how they feel
  • stay calm and let their own emotions out somewhere else
  • let their child know they’re proud of them for getting help
  • be sensitive about escalating concerns
It was really important for my daughter that we talked about the referral and assessment in advance. She needed to be in tune with what was happening to reduce her anxiety.
a parent
Before the assessment agree with your child what information they want to convey and whether they want you to talk for them. And try to go in with an open mind.
a parent

What happens after the assessment

The CAMHS team will use all this information to understand your child’s needs, assess risks and develop a treatment plan. They will try to involve you and your child in this process, taking your views into account.

You and your child’s GP will be sent a report outlining the findings, any specific diagnoses and plan. This could be treatment with the same CAMHS team, referral to another team (for instance if a neurodevelopmental condition such as autism is suspected), referral to Early Help or other services, or your child may be discharged.

What if your child is not offered treatment by CAMHS?

Parent sits with their arm around their child to reassure them.

It can be upsetting, frustrating and worrying if CAMHS does not offer treatment, particularly if your child has been waiting a long time, or you feel that their mental health is worsening.

You can ask CAMHS to explain their decision. They should provide details of other organisations or resources that you could look into, alongside the possibilities listed here. If you are unsure about the best options, ask CAMHS for more information, or discuss with your GP.

Keep gathering evidence about your child’s needs. This may help you find support and ensure that the information about your child is up to date.

If your child is not offered treatment by CAMHS, or needs support while on a waiting list, there are other options. Here are some of the other ways you may be able to find help for your child:

Your GP or school may be able to refer to other services offering support, such as Early Help, children’s wellbeing practitioners or educational mental health practitioners.

Ask the SENCO or pastoral team if they offer counselling or other school-based emotional support, either directly or with a charity such as Place2Be

Local authorities are required to set out provision for young people with special educational needs and disabilities in their area. This may include organisations offering counselling or therapy. (Find your local authority website for details.)

Speak to your CAMHS service first if your child is in treatment or on their waiting list, as private care may mean CAMHS treatment is withdrawn. Be aware that therapists and counsellors cannot make clinical diagnoses. Before using a private service for diagnosis of a condition such as ADHD, ASD or dyspraxia, check with your child’s school whether a private diagnosis will be recognised to access support.

Encourage healthy routines, social contact, exercise and activities. We have techniques that can help your child feel calmer at times of anxiety and ideas for practical ways to support young people with different conditions and difficulties in our parents’ guides.

For more detailed information on supporting your child's mental health see our parents' guide to mental health support.

Getting support from mental health services
  • Don’t exclude any options and pursue every avenue. Talk to other parents, especially someone who might be able to give you advice about what’s available in your local area or in the regional area.
    a parent
  • If you're in school, then talk to your pastoral team as they often have people dedicated to supporting mental health and might be able to help make school easier or less pressure for you.
    a young person

How to work with CAMHS during your child's treatment

  • Collaborate

    Try to work in partnership with the professionals. Remember you all want the best outcome for your child.

  • Ask questions

    If you are unsure of something, or you don’t understand or agree, ask questions and request explanations. Trust your instincts – you know your child.

  • Take time for decisions

    Don’t feel pressured into instant decisions. You and your child are entitled to consider and agree to plans (unless your child has been sectioned under the Mental Health Act). Ask about alternatives if you aren’t sure.

  • Sum up plans

    End meetings by summing up the plan and next steps if possible.

  • Keep notes

    Write everything down, including professionals’ names and contact details in a dedicated notebook. Confirm plans and strategies by email and request a response.

  • Give strategies time to work

    Give strategies, types of support and different professionals a chance, even if something’s not working straight away.

CAMHS services work with families, but they also try to respect the child’s wishes about confidentiality and parental involvement, particularly for older children.

If your child is under 16 you are legally responsible for them and, in most cases, you will be invited to their appointments and both you and your child will be asked to discuss and consent to treatment. CAMHS professionals might suggest your child is sometimes seen alone if they are comfortable with this.

Both you and your child can request that certain information is not shared, including with each other, but the CAMHS team cannot maintain confidentiality if they believe anyone is being harmed or at risk.

If your child is 16 or over, they have a legal right to privacy and they can refuse treatment (though this decision can be over-ruled by courts). You may not automatically be involved in treatment planning by CAMHS and your consent is not needed, but your child can ask for you to be included.

If you are unhappy with your child’s care, start by raising your concerns with the CAMHS team. You could request that your child sees a different professional if this might help. You can also ask for an independent advocate for you or your child.

If you want to make a formal complaint in writing, use the process set out on your CAMHS website. Your local NHS Trust will also have a Patients Advisory Liaison Service (PALS) that can provide guidance.

Three young people sitting together in a park.

Young people tell us they would like their parents and carers to:

  • be confident about asking questions of the professionals when necessary and using direct and straight language
  • not give up on getting help
  • describe what it’s like on the worst day – not just today or this week
  • know their legal rights and the government's NICE guidelines
  • remember they can attend appointments with their child

What to do if your child won't engage with CAMHS

Sometimes children and young people are unable or reluctant to engage with assessment or treatment, or they refuse entirely. This is very difficult for parents and can make it hard for CAMHS professionals to offer the best support quickly.

The tips on this page under 'preparing for the assessment' may help your child feel more informed, in control and comfortable with the process. Listen to their concerns if they can articulate them, try to reassure, but don’t try to force treatment - this can make engagement even harder.

MindEd has more advice for parents on working with mental health professionals, including if your child won’t engage, in their online learning module Speaking Up For Your Child.

Parents have told us some of the things they have found helpful:

  • My son refused to engage, but the psychiatrist built the length of time they spoke up very slowly, from just a few minutes at first. After a few appointments it did get easier.
  • Our appointments were over Zoom and it actually worked well for my son because the environment was familiar. Sometimes he even played the piano during them which helped him to relax and open up.
  • Talking to the psychotherapist made my daughter very anxious and unable to respond so she was offered art therapy instead. She felt much more comfortable and able to communicate and it really helped her recovery.

Useful helplines and websites

While we take care to ensure that the organisations we signpost to provide high quality information and advice, we cannot take responsibility for any specific pieces of advice they may offer. We encourage parents and carers to always explore the website of a linked service or organisation to understand who they are and what support they offer before engaging with them.

  • YoungMinds Parents Helpline

    We support parents and carers who are concerned about their child or young person's mental health. Our Parents Helpline provides detailed advice and information, emotional support and signposting.

    You can speak to us over the phone or chat to us online.

    You can speak to us over webchat between 9.30am and 4pm from Monday-Friday. When we’re closed, you can still leave us a message in the chat. We’ll reply to you by email in 3-5 working days.

    Opening times:
    9.30am-4pm, Monday-Friday
  • MindEd for Families

    Information and e-learning resources about mental health for parents and carers, including advice on working with mental health services.

  • Hub of Hope

    A national database of mental health charities and organisations across Britain that offer mental health advice, including for family members.

  • Mind

    Offers advocacy services, as well as information and signposting on mental health difficulties, via the Mind Infoline.

    Also hosts Side by Side, an online community for those aged 18 and over to connect with others who are going through, or have been through, similar experiences.

    Opening times:
    9am - 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays)
  • Mind Legal Line

    Provides information and advice on mental health law, including being detained, mental capacity, community care and discrimination and equality.

    Opening times:
    9am - 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays)
Patient Information Forum Trusted Information Creator (PIF TICK) logo

This page was reviewed in May 2022.

It was created with parents and carers with lived experience of supporting their child or young person around CAMHS.

We will next review the page in 2025.

YoungMinds is a proud member of PIF TICK – the UK's quality mark for trusted health information.

Whether you love the page or think something is missing, we appreciate your feedback. It all helps us to support more young people with their mental health.

Please be aware that this form isn’t a mental health support service. If your child is in crisis right now and you want to talk to someone urgently, find out who to contact on our urgent help page.

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