How do CAMHS make parents and carers responsible for their child’s struggles?

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in the UK exist to help children and young people who are experiencing mental health problems. Despite this, Autistic children and young people are finding that such services either refuse or fail to deliver meaningful intervention, even when they are in the depths of mental health crisis. One of the ways that they do this is through positioning their parents and carers as being at fault for the young person’s mental health problem.

What is institutional parent/carer blame and why is it relevant to Autistic people and their families?

“Disabled children and their families are one of the most severely disadvantaged
groups in the UK. They are ‘significantly more likely to live under conditions
that have been shown to impede development, educational attainment and
adjustment to and increase the risk of poor health, additional impairment and
social exclusion’.

Clements & Aiello (2021)

Institutionalised Parent/Carer Blame is the practice by societies institutions of taking an adversarial approach to supporting children and young people. In the context of social care, this often looks like issuing safeguarding proceedings when a needs assessment is required. Autistic and disabled families run foul of this far too often (as mentioned in the quoted report). Sadly, CAMHS also engage in this kind of practice.

What is the most common form of parent blame in CAMHS?

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend parenting courses as “evidence-based interventions”. In particular, these courses are often aimed at parents of Autistic children. Unfortunately, not only are these courses often unhelpful, they position parents who are likely to be disabled themselves as the root of their child’s struggle. Failure to engage with the tools of this parent/carer blame can lead to social care involvement and safeguarding reports. It is the weaponisation of the system and defensive practice.

It is failing Autistic children.

Why do CAMHS engage in institutionalised parent/carer blame?

In my opinion, a significant factor in the practice of parent/carer blame is the need to gatekeep resources, coupled with a failure to understand Autistic children and their families within their unique context. In social care, this can be seen by the absence of clear guidance on how to approach disabled children and their families in the Working Together Document (2018). This sets the stage for countless inappropriate safeguarding referrals and systemic hostility.

Not only are CAMHS (self-professed) to not have the skills or knowledge to work with Autistic people, they are losing important resources year on year.

“…government statistics show a 25% increase in the number of young people with a mental health need – from 61,830 in 2019 to 77,390 last year.”

The Guardian (2022)

Despite the post-COVID increase in mental health problems amongst young people, funding and resources for CAMHS have not changed in a positive way. This has led to a shortage of skilled staff and a culture of defensive practice. Autistic young people, like many disabled people, are treated as an acceptable loss.

What is the result of parent/carer blame for Autistic families?

“…one in five GPs (18%) knows of a patient who has tried to, or taken, their own life after being refused care – often on the justification that their condition was not ‘severe’ enough.”

Disability Rights UK (2022)

Not only are Autistic young people losing their lives due to CAMHS failures, there is an ever present risk of family breakdown. Families who can not get the correct support risk harm to the entire family unit, not just the Autistic young person in crisis. The victims of CAMHS failures are a far wider group. We hurt when our loved ones hurt. Yet, CAMHS are still willing to contribute to the criminalisation of parents whose only crime was to ask for help.

Click here to see the petition against CAMHS

Click here to sign the open letter to the UK health secretary.

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