National award for CAMHS team

National award for CAMHS team

Published: 5 November 2018

Staff in Torbay and South Devon have won a national award for their work to reduce the number of young people facing emergency mental health crisis. With admission rates for self-harm among young people twice the national average, the Trust’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) set up a crisis home response team. Its aim was to provide intensive support to young people experiencing mental health crisis in their own homes, thus avoiding the need for them to be admitted to hospital.

The team has seen impressive results over the last year, including:

  • A 35% reduction in ED attendance
  • 53% reduction in hospital bed days
  • 80% reduction in the number of young people being referred out of the area for an inpatient stay in a specialist mental health unit

As well as dramatically improving the experience of young people in most urgent need of mental health support, enabling them to stay within their families and continue with their daily lives, these changes have also resulted in savings of around £1.5m. The team was also shortlisted for team of the year.

The team beat stiff competition from around the UK to win the top award, with 10 other finalists from across England, Scotland and Wales.

Chief Executive, Liz Davenport, commented: “I am absolutely delighted that the team has won this national award. They had a vision for what they wanted to achieve, which was about transforming the service for our young people. They faced plenty of challenges along the way – including recruiting enough staff with the right experience to provide cover out of hours. Thanks to their vision, innovation and determination we are now offering first-rate support for young people with urgent mental health needs.”

Gracie’s story

Single Mum, Gracie, and her two young daughters are one example of a family whose lives have been changed, thanks to the timely support they received from the CAMHS service.

Gracie said: “As a family, we were really in crisis when we moved to Devon from Manchester a few years ago. I had been in an abusive relationship for over 10 years, which involved domestic violence, drugging and rape. My girls frequently witnessed their Dad beating me up, and although he wasn’t violent towards them, he was verbally abusive and threatened them.

“We all lived our lives in a constant state of anxiety. The police would regularly come round to check on us, and we had a fireproof letterbox and CCTV installed. We didn’t really feel any safer though. Although we were under the care of local mental health services, we didn’t feel well supported.

“Now, I wonder how I stayed in that relationship so long, but I know at the time I was too scared to leave, and didn’t think I had any options. The trigger point for me was when I was bathing my daughters one day, and I saw the terror in the little one’s eyes when her father was shouting at her. I saw myself in her, and I knew I didn’t want her to face a future like mine. I contacted a women’s refuge and they took us to a place of safety the same day. I cried myself to sleep that night – not knowing what the future might hold or how I could keep my girls safe.

“We knew that for our own safety we had to move away. I asked the girls where they wanted to go, and they decided to shut their eyes and put a finger on the map. It landed on Torbay, so we did a few visits down here and decided it looked like a good place to live. It was hard starting over from scratch, but now I’m so glad we did. I managed to get a job and saved up enough deposit for us to rent a flat.

“The girls were referred into the CAMHS service almost straight away by their school. They were terrified and suffering nightmares and flashbacks. The older one was still wetting her bed and the little one refused to sleep anywhere except in my bed. Although they had each other, neither of them was confident about going out and making new friends, and their anxiety was making it difficult for them to settle at school.

“We initially had some support from a psychiatrist, then the girls had weekly one to one sessions with Rachel, a CAMHS Practitioner. I can’t tell you the difference it has made to us as a family. Rachel has been absolutely amazing and has really helped us turn our lives around. It has taken a long time, but we are much stronger now as a family – together and apart. Both my girls have their own friends and are confident enough to go out without me. They both sleep in their own beds, which means I can get a good night’s sleep too – for the first time in years. I can’t speak highly enough of the service. I’ve lived in different parts of the country and always felt let down by CAMHS – until now.

“We are such a strong family unit now. I go out to work knowing that the girls are happy at school and I earn enough money to save a little, so that we can have things like a TV and an iPad. The kids really value what they’ve got now, because they know just how hard it has been to get to this point. For the first time in their lives, I feel confident that they can have a safe and happy future.”

Rachel Comley has been Gracie and the girls’ key worker since 2016. She has supported the family’s transformation, but says that the success is really down to Gracie’s attitude and approach: “When I met Gracie, she and her family were in a really difficult place. It would have been all too easy for her girls to fall into mental health crisis, after all that they had been through. Gracie knew they needed help and was very positive about working with CAMHS. You can’t change what has happened to you, but you can change the way you think and feel about the situation – that’s what’s behind cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is one of the therapies we used to help the girls. But while I worked with the girls, once a week, Gracie had to then reinforce the approach at home, using new strategies. It’s really her willingness and ability to change that has enabled her girls to do so well now.

“When the girls first came to us, Gracie was being over-reassuring, in her desire to protect them and give them a better future. But that meant they were relying on her for their assurance, they weren’t developing their own resilience or ability to cope with stressful situations in future. The girls gradually learned that they could be OK without having Mum close at hand all the time and are now much more confident. Gracie knows she can call on me for advice or support at any time, and she does occasionally if she needs help, but the family are now doing so well that I no longer need to see the eldest.

“Being able to work with a family in this way is what makes my job so worthwhile. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than helping a child recover from trauma and have the resilience to cope with all the normal challenges of teenage life.”

Some names and details have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.