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ISPCC chief The CAMHS report came as no surprise to anyone caring for children in turmoil

John Church says the recent CAMHS shows just how many young people in Ireland are suffering.

IT CAME AS a shock to read the findings of the interim report of the Mental Health Commission (MHC) into the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). A shock to learn that more than 100 children had been left without care for two years. A shock but not a surprise.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin may have described these findings as ‘unacceptable’ but for those of us who work with children and young people, it is an open secret how shamefully their mental health is neglected by those in authority whose very job is to look after children and young people.

CAMHS is without question unfit for purpose. There are many fantastic people working there, but the system is utterly broken and requires nothing less than a radical overhaul.
In the short term, we strongly suggest that there is a rethink of the entire CAMHS service delivery model; children and young people ought to be able to avail of such a service when and where they need it.

For too long, some of the most vulnerable members of our society have been held hostage to government inefficiency. But enough is enough.

Children in turmoil

We at ISPCC know how the children of Ireland are feeling. We know what is on their minds and how they are coping, and more importantly how they are not coping.
The latter part of 2022 saw our 24/7 Childline Listening Service experience a significant increase in conversations amongst children seeking support in relation to thoughts about suicide, conflict in the home and feelings of low mood and unhappiness.

Anxiety continues to be a topic frequently discussed by children who speak with Childline both online and on the phone.

Over just three days of the Christmas period, volunteers at Childline answered almost 600 online contacts, calls and texts from children and young people across Ireland. One of their main topics of conversation was mental and emotional health.

In 2021, Childline received more than 100,000 contacts from children and young people seeking support throughout the year. It is clear to us that levels of anxiety and depression among children in Ireland are continuing to rise. We are always here for children and young people to offer a listening ear. Children and young people should not feel that they have to cope alone.

Listening to children

The 24-hour active listening service is one of the suites of Childline services provided by ISPCC. It is free, non-judgmental and non-directive. All our services, programmes and supports are focussed on strengthening resilience and developing coping competencies.

Along with our 24-hour support line, we provide Childline Therapeutic Supports, which are in-depth one-to-one support sessions with children, young people and their families over a period of up to six months; a series of Digital Mental Health and Wellbeing programmes from Silvercloud, a leading digital mental health provider; and Smart Moves, an evidence-informed resilience-building programme for sixth class and first-year students making the transition from primary to secondary school.

We speak out and advocate for meaningful change that will enhance their lives today and leave a legacy of improved childhood experiences for future generations of children and young people.

The learnings

One of the most damning outcomes of the review by the Mental Health Commission is the lack of accountability at all levels. While there has been much handwringing, no one seems prepared to shoulder any of the responsibility for this crisis. It is time to take action.

The Online Safety and Media Regulation Act, which was signed into law last year, introduced a senior management liability provision if certain online services fail to meet online safety standards. Surely, it is time that such liability is incorporated into our mental health services?

Children have a right to appropriate care, and at ISPCC we know the importance of prevention and early intervention.

In our experience, not every child who is currently on a CAMHS waiting list should have ended up there. We believe that early intervention services could make a real difference in a child’s life and ensure that many of those on the waiting list no longer need to be there.

We remain firmly convinced that the Youth Mental Health Pathfinder unit must be initiated without further delay to meaningfully tackle the crisis in our mental health services. And, that mental health be a core focus of the next national strategy for children and young people, with funding ring-fenced for universal and targeted services

In light of the Mental Health Commission findings, it is timely that Ireland is being examined by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child this week. Mental health will be a key focus there, as it needs to be at home.

For too long, our children have suffered because those who are in a position to effect meaningful change have decided not to do so. The current crisis will not be the last. The mental health of children and young people needs to stay on the political agenda. We need to keep the pressure on government. It is up to all of us, we all have a voice. Now it is the time to use it on behalf of our children and young people.

John Church is the CEO of the ISPCC. Childline’s 24-hour support line can be contacted for FREE, 365 days a year 24/7. Children can chat online at or call 1800 66 66 66.


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