CHILDREN referred for mental health treatment by their schools across Dorset has soared by more than a third in the past three years, figures have revealed.

According to data obtained by the NSPCC, a total of 570 referrals for specialist support were made by county schools to Dorset HealthCare University NHS Foundation Trust (which runs the counties Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in 2017-18, up 36 per cent on 2015/16 when 419 referrals were made.

Of these, 37 per cent of these came from primary schools, where children are under the age of 11 with two children aged four the youngest to be referred.

In comparison, nationally, a total of 34,757 referrals for specialist support were made by schools in 2017-18 - the equivalent of 183 every school day.

This is compared to 25,140 referrals in 2014-15.

More than half (56 per cent) of the referrals came from primary schools while nearly a third (31 per cent) of those referred to NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) were declined specialist treatment.

NSPCC bosses warned increased demand for services was placing the system under pressure and jeopardising the well-being of thousands of children.

It has called for more funding for its Childline service to help relieve some of the pressure.

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the charity, added: “Our research shows schools are increasingly referring children for specialist mental health treatment, often when the child is at crisis point. We have seen a marked increase in counselling about mental health, and fully expect it to continue.”

Dame Esther Rantzen, founder and President of Childline, added: “Young people are telling us they are overwhelmed with mental health issues, such depression and anxiety, which is taking many of them to the brink of suicide.”

Councillor Richard Watts, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said the findings were “worrying.”

He added: “If we are to tackle the crisis in children’s mental health, we need a root-and-branch overhaul of existing services.

“We need to develop a system that says yes, rather than no, to children when they ask for help.”

The NSPCC’s data, released under the Freedom of Information Act, covers 53 of the 66 health trusts known to provide mental health support to children.

In response to the concerns raised, a government spokesman said that they were investing an additional £300m in providing support to children.

They added: “We know we need to do more which is why we have extended our schools and NHS link pilot to deliver training in 20 more areas of the country this year.

“This will improve links between up to 1,200 schools and their local specialist mental health service.”

However, an independent parliamentary report from the Education and Health and Social Care select committees last week found that the Government’s £300m plans to improve mental health provision for children “lacks ambition and will provide no help to the majority of children who desperately need it.”

Stuart Lynch, CAMHS service manager at Dorset HealthCare, said: “CAMHS in Dorset has seen an increase in referrals from schools, which is mainly down to the positive work that has taken place in schools around adolescent mental health awareness.

"The recent green paper outlines the government’s proposals for improved awareness and support in this area.

"Dorset HealthCare is working closely with commissioning colleagues at the Dorset CCG to increase access to CAMHS services over the next three years.

"We have secured additional investment and are expanding the workforce to increase the number of children and young people able to access our services."