Introducing our new children and young people’s Access Team


Introducing our new children and young people’s Access Team

Six years ago, our child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) set up a single point of access – a team of clinicians who triage referrals, from across the county, for young people where there are concerns about their mental health. It’s also possible for young people aged 16-17 to self-refer into the service too.

The team of clinicians screen and triage patient referrals, where they work out whether there’s a mental health need, and if so, what the best type of support would look like, such as specialist CAMHS, or potentially a different type of healthcare service.

But while our single point of access team does a great job in helping those who meet the criteria for care and treatment from our CAMHS professionals, there are a number of young people whose referrals do not go through for a number of reasons – and this can be frustrating for them and their families.

When a family gets a letter through the post to say their referral for CAMHS support has been turned down, they can often struggle to know where to turn to next, which can lead to feelings of anger and confusion.

This is where our brand new service steps in – The Access Team is made up of assistant psychologists Niamh Vaughan-Williams and Steph Bates, and mental health support worker Sharon Rideout. They work out of the Horizon Centre in Taunton, but cover the whole of Somerset, supporting families who aren't sure where to turn.

Clinical lead for the Single Point of Access team, Molly Belding, explains the problem the team has been trying to solve. “Before our new Access Team was set up, our single point of access clinicians used to write a letter to both the young people and the professional who referred them, to explain their recommendations and to give them information on what they needed to do next,” she said.

“But this used to generate quite a lot of anxiety among both families, and even professionals, who weren’t quite sure what the letter really meant and, indeed, they were often not aware of how to access the services we recommended in our letter.

“We felt that we just weren’t offering the best service we could for our young people, so we looked into ways we could communicate with families better – that’s how our new Access Team came about.

“We now have a much better service with a more personalised response for young people, that helps them to better understand the rationale behind decisions made by our single point of access clinicians, and how we can support them further.

“So far, we’ve had wonderful feedback from young people, and professionals, who’ve told us they really appreciate being involved directly in decisions about the best care available to them.”

Support worker Sharon said she felt it was so important that the team could hear the voice of the child or young person, so colleagues could understand properly what’s going on in their life and what their worries are.

“Our new Access Team is able to have that extra contact with a young person whose care isn’t quite right for CAMHS,” she said. “This helps us to identify any mental health issues so we can thoughtfully redirect the family to an appropriate service.

“Whenever a young person or their family comes into our service, we know that they’ll have likely already been told by the single point of access clinicians that CAMHS is not for them, but we help to reframe the way we give this news, and provide them with support options in a positive way so they don’t feel rejected or abandoned.

“We’re also able to provide them with information about other, more suitable, services within their area, that they may not have otherwise known about.

“We do get a lot of calls from parents who are understandably distressed after a decision has been made not to admit their child into CAMHS. We know that they absolutely want the best care possible for their child, so our role is to support them to access services that could best meet their needs – a lot of what they actually ask for is reassurance.

“The general feedback we’ve had from parents and young people has been really positive with most saying that they felt listened to, and have appreciated the decision not to admit their child into CAMHS being explained properly – many even felt relieved.

“It’s really important that they’ve had that time to ask those questions, rather than just needing to accept the decision and move on, which is difficult to do without all the facts.”

Assistant psychologist Steph explained how the Access Team works in practice. “We explain the difference between mental health services and the various therapeutic approaches, as there’s often a lot of confusion about both,” she said. “For example, trauma-informed counselling may be a better option than cognitive behavioural therapy and we’d be able to explain why that is.

“Sometimes, because our team is more personalised, we might have better quality conversations with a young person where they open up more about their feelings than they might otherwise to a clinician.

“For example, a recent young person we supported had to inform their school about their mental health and they were scared to do that verbally, so we helped them to use their own voice as part of a letter to the school.”

In another recent development, the Access Team has recently set up an ‘Anxiety Workshop’ where colleagues give parents useful hints and tips in dealing with their child’s anxiety while they wait to access a service.

“When we set up our Anxiety Workshop, we invited 10 sets of parents whose children were waiting for low intensity cognitive behavioural therapy and had been referred to our Access Team,” explains assistant psychologist Niamh.

“The workshop looks into their specific child’s needs over four sessions. These cover an introduction to anxiety, and how we can challenge the young person’s anxious thoughts and behaviours, with the hope that we can equip parents with the resources they need.”