CAMHS National Summit 2022: The power of listening

Headshot image of Karen Bodger

Karen Bodger, our new Implementation Lead for the North West region, reflects on the presentations at the CAMHS 2022 National Summit: Transforming Mental Health Services for Adults and children and shares some of the speakers’ insights.

Speakers noted the UK is in the grip of a mental health crisis, with children and young people suffering in particular. Referrals to NHS Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) have increased by 180% during the last five years, creating significant pressure on services and raising the threshold for support and treatment. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) model is routinely used to tot up all the trauma children have experienced, creating feelings of bleakness for support workers. Still, the CAMHS summit were determined we have hope and talked a lot about harnessing the power of listening to help support.

Speakers acknowledged it’s grim out there for young people who are suffering. As Dr Harriet Stewart said, “young people’s mental health was worsening at an alarming rate before the pandemic. In the aftermath of Covid, children present at CAMHS with more complex needs. Staff are exhausted, burnt out, and leaving the service”. When Dr Stewart said, quite bluntly, “if we don’t get it right, we’ll ruin their lives, their opportunities,” it was hard not to feel like we are, as a society, failing our young people. But as she said, “we need to think we can do this.”

I also heard from young people like Katie Hickson, who spoke up about her experiences. She is a young woman who gets involved in conversations with the government and campaigns, making me feel hugely hopeful. Katie so eloquently reminded us, “young people already have a voice; they don’t need to be given it. It’s the job of the professionals, the service providers, and parents to listen to their voice and provide opportunities for them to be heard”.  

I also loved hearing Max Davie (who very impressively managed to squeeze in a reference to CBeebies’ Octonauts while debunking some of the myths around early help) talk about listening to the difficulties young people were experiencing as we’ve become a bit fixated on labels, but Max demonstrated the importance of listening first and diagnosing later.

Nicola Harvey, the author of Mindful Little Yogis, shows us how active listening can help young people feel psychologically safe and that without providing that psychological safety, we can’t expect young people to grow up resilient. Reiterating without listening first, we can’t expect better outcomes.

There was a lot of agreement around the need to fund early support hubs, that young people can access without needing a referral.

How can the Outcomes Star help your service?

The Outcomes Stars are listening and conversational tools helping services transform lives. They are keywork tools and measurement tools.  If your organisation provides early intervention mental health support for young people, My Mind Star has seven key outcome areas designed to open up conversations between support workers and the young person about their life. My Mind Star doesn’t assess how severe a mental ‘problem’ is. It explores where the young person is now and where they would like to get to in the future. It is a holistic co-production tool involving listening and discussing a young person’s life, situation, priorities, hopes and aspirations. Together the worker and young person co-create goals and action plans. Using the scales to measure the distance a young person travels through the journey of change over a period of time. Star data also helps managers assess workers caseloads to help reduce burnout. Star data also provides service improvement insight to analyse if the support provided is working, individual progression data and aggregated service level data to report impact to funders.

What I personally like about the Outcomes Star approach is that it starts with listening and, when used well, puts young people at the centre of their journey. Rather than defining a young person by statistics, by how many ACEs they’ve experienced, or whether they are ‘unwell enough to warrant service or support, the Outcomes Star is a collaborative tool that supports and measures change. 

Learn more about My Mind Star