In our new briefing, AYPH’s Ann Hagell and our colleague James Kenrick pulled together some key messages about improving support for parents and carers of young people with mental health problems.

At the Association for Young People’s Health (AYPH) we’ve long been interested in the challenges facing parents, other carers and young people in navigating child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). We’ve undertaken a series of projects on the topic including scoping the literature, undertaking an online survey of parents, attending groups and hearing directly from parents who were struggling to access support, and talking to young people.

We have also held several events including a report launch at the House of Lords and a multi-disciplinary stakeholder event.

Most recently we completed a scoping of parent support groups and resources in England and we developed Help For Parents, a website directing parents and carers to sources of support, advice and information. We are currently involved in an evaluation of the Rollercoaster parent support services in Northumbria. Our previous work can be found on AYPH’s website.

We took a step back recently to look at all the work in the round, and consider the emerging policy and practice issues.  Our interest is in finding solutions.  In our new briefing we have identified examples of good practice and next steps for developing more parent support.  There are things that can be done nationally as well as locally.  We hope that it will stimulate debate in the sector, help parents and the young people they care for feel more supported, and lead to improvements in local CAMHS offers to parents and carers.

Our main messages are:

  • Parents and carers have a key role in supporting young people through both crisis and recovery. However, they are often in distress themselves, feel isolated, and struggle to be heard by the mental health system.
  • Although they are still rare, our research identified several parent support services demonstrating promising practice.
  • Improving support to parents and carers could help address young people’s mental health problems earlier, improve young people’s outcomes and relieve pressure on child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).
  • This will require developing the partnership elements of CAMHS, improving the information provided on CAMHS websites, supporting the development of voluntary sector parent support services and giving parents and carers a more consistent voice in improving provision alongside young people.
  • Service developments could combine the accessibility, flexibility and responsiveness of voluntary sector services with the mental health expertise of CAMHS professionals and include a focus on reducing health inequalities so that services reach those most in need.

Improving parental support is not a replacement for expanding young people’s mental health services, but it is an important part of supporting young people through treatment and recovery. We hope this overview will encourage more investment in the topic and provide pointers for next steps