Ground-breaking study launches into CAMHS support for children and young people with social work involvement

A significant new collaborative research project has launched to shed light on the effectiveness of the mental health and wellbeing support and treatment received by children and young people who have involvement with social workers.

The CAMHS Referrals and Outcomes for Adolescents and Children with Social Workers (COACHES) study is a four-year collaboration between the University of Cambridge, Kingston University, King’s College London, the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and the Care Leavers Association examining data from over 70,000 young people across two NHS trusts.

At the heart of the project will be qualitative contributions by young people and parents with direct experience of mental health and wellbeing interventions within the social care system, facilitated by the Care Leavers Association.

The project partners hope that the research findings could have a significant impact on how social care and mental health services are shaped and delivered to children and young people over the next two decades.

It follows the acknowledgement from the Independent Children’s Social Care Review that mental health is a key issue facing young people who are in or leaving care.

Specifically, the project aims to provide answers to the following questions:

  • What factors influenced whether a young person’s referral to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) is accepted or rejected?
  • What CAMHS treatments prove helpful for young people?
  • What is the cost effectiveness of these treatments?
  • How are young people with social care involvement depicted within CAMHS case notes?
  • What are the experiences of young people with social care involvement of their treatment by CAMHS?

The study will look at examples of children and young people with social work involvement in two areas of the UK - South London, and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

The role of the National Children’s Bureau will be to connect and engage with policymakers and parliamentarians and share the objectives and findings of the research and provide crucial evidence on what works and what is less effective when it comes to CAMHS interventions with children and young people with social work involvement.

COACHES will be funded by What Works for Children’s Social Care and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

NIHR recently changed its name from the National Institute of Health Research to emphasise its responsibility for supporting the development of social care research. 

The NIHR Research for Social Care scheme will now run twice yearly, thanks to a £5m a year investment, and will be open to children’s social care. The NIHR Academy is also offering funding for Masters and PhD study for people whose research would contribute to the mission of local authorities. One of the ambitions of the project team working on COACHES is to contribute to the wider environment supporting children’s social care research, and they will be supporting practitioners to get involved with the study, in conjunction with the British Association of Social Workers.

The first outputs from the study are anticipated in 2023, and will include:

  • An analysis of the different forms of adversity experienced by young people with and without social care involvement, and how this relates to their mental health needs;
  • An analysis of inequalities accessing CAMHS for young people with safeguarding needs; and
  • A qualitative analysis of case notes, led by and co-conducted with Experts-by-Experience, examining how mental health services make sense of young people's safeguarding needs and histories of adversity
Quote from NCB CEO Anna Feuchtwang on launch of COACHES

Taliah Drayak, Expert-by-Experience co-Investigator on the COACHES project, said:

"Children with social workers are already identified as having faced challenges and adversities which are additional stressors to mental health. CAMHS has a vital role to play in improving these children's lives and this research is a unique opportunity to better understand what is working well and what needs to change."

Robbie Duschinsky, Head of the Applied Social Science Group within the Primary Care Unit, and Director of Studies in Sociology at Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge, said:

“Many children and young people who receive social services support experience mental health difficulties. And yet we know too little about the mental health care they receive from CAMHS, which treatments lead to positive change and how much these treatments cost. This project will lay essential foundations for the improved provision of mental health services for children and young people who may also have safeguarding needs.”

Rick Hood, Professor of Social Work at Kingston University, said:

“Access to effective mental health provision is crucial for improving outcomes for vulnerable children, and requires robust evidence to underpin the partnership between children’s social care and CAMHS. This study will go a long way to providing that evidence and encouraging policies to strengthen services in this vital area.”

Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said:

“I am excited that NCB is co-ordinating the learning and communications from this ground-breaking programme. Decision makers in government need the evidence that joined up support across professional teams at an early stage actually makes a difference and is cost effective. This programme will provide us with the crucial evidence about how mental health teams and social workers collaborating can provide better support for children and young people in the care system, evidence that could change policies and strengthen the system that children in care rely on.”