Are we listening? A review of children and young people’s mental health services

Published: 8 March 2018 Page last updated: 12 May 2022

This report describes the findings of our independent review of the system of services that support children and young people’s mental health.

Are we listening? cover image

The Prime Minister asked us to conduct a review of quality and access across the system of mental health services for children and young people.

The report draws on evidence gathered from fieldwork in 10 health and wellbeing board areas in England.

What we did

We spoke with staff working across these different parts of the system, and to children, young people, parents, families and carers who use their services.

We reviewed policies and procedures. We visited schools, hospitals, voluntary organisations and other services. And we used ‘case-tracking’ to examine in detail how individual children and young people with mental health problems moved through the system.

In total, across phase two of our work, we spoke with more than 1,300 people through focus groups and one-to-one interviews.

We looked at three main aspects of the mental health system for children and young people:

  1. People’s experience of and involvement in care
  2. How partners plan and deliver services that offer high quality care that can be accessed in a timely fashion
  3. How partners in the local area identify mental health needs and what they do to start the process of getting the right support for children and young people

What we found

We found that many children and young people experiencing mental health problems don’t get the kind of care they deserve. The system is complicated, with no easy or clear way to get help or support.

We saw examples of services with caring and dedicated individuals who put children and young people at the centre of what they do. But these people are often working long hours, with limited money and an increasing demand for their services to overcome barriers to providing high-quality care. This cannot be maintained in the long run.

Things need to change at the top, so those working with children and young people have the support they need to be able to provide the best care.

Our recommendations and next steps

We have made some recommendations to organisations responsible for making sure that the problems with mental health services are dealt with, including:

  • The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care should make sure there is joint action across government to make children and young people’s mental health a national priority, working with ministers in health, social care, education, housing and local government
  • Local organisations must work together to deliver a clear ‘local offer’ of the care and support available to children and young people
  • Government, employers and schools should make sure that everyone that works, volunteers or cares for children and young people are trained to encourage good mental health and offer basic mental health support
  • Ofsted should look at what schools are doing to support children and young people’s mental health when they inspect

In 2019/2020, we will report on the progress the different organisations have made to act on the recommendations in the report.