A director of children’s mental health services in Dorset has publicly apologised for the system “letting down” a young victim of sexual abuse.

And he says the service must do better.

The girl, aged 15, has self harmed and attempted suicide since she disclosed last year that she had been abused by her stepfather who was jailed for nine years in December last year.

The Daily Echo featured Lauren's story yesterday as part of our investigation into how victims are supported after they have come forward.

Lauren had to wait eight weeks to see a counsellor from the NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) in Dorset.

Lauren and her mother Sarah were angry at the delay and that when she attempted suicide in August, it was a male weekend ‘on call’ CAMHS worker who visited her in hospital and at first insisted seeing Lauren alone.

Now, in an interview with the Echo, associate director for CAMHS in Bournemouth, Mike Kelly, says the service needs to do better.

“There are gaps in the system and I apologise if we haven’t offered a service to someone in need. Every child matters to us. The commitment is there to change things.”

“We want to offer the best service we can so that children and young people don’t fall through the gaps.

“We know that getting the right specialist care for children at the right time is vital to their wellbeing. In recent times, our service has seen a really significant rise in demand for our specialist treatment, support and advice.

“As a result we’re working closely with our NHS and social services partners to improve speed of response quality of care.”

Asked if he thought a lot of children were being failed by CAMHS, which now has a 16-week average waiting time from referral to appointment, he added: “I wouldn’t say a lot but I agree that one children is one too many.

“People should be seen straightaway but there are huge demands on the service, up to 60 referrals a week in Bournemouth alone at the moment.

“Being seen on day one after a child has disclosed they have been the victim should be a priority. But it’s difficult.

“In this case we let someone down and I accept Lauren is probably not an isolated case.

“I totally agree with Sarah’s view that we should be there from day one and that is something for us to sort out with our local government and commissioning colleagues.

“No child should have to wait at all for a service.

“Eight weeks is a long time and I apologised to Sarah about that when I saw her.”

Mental health services for children and young people are under review by the funders, Dorset’s Clinical Commissioning Group, and Sarah has met commissioners to give her firsthand account of the failings she and her daughter encountered.

Mr Kelly said: “What’s powerful is meeting people like Sarah because that’s about reality. You have to justify why you haven’t done something.”

He also accepted more needed to be done for all members of a family where abuse had occurred because “everyone is a victim”.

Sarah helped establish the charity ACTS FAST, which aims to provide rapid response to such families.

Mr Kelly said: “We are very keen to learn from them about what services are needed. I urge victims to come and disclose and not be afraid that support would not be there for them.”

Sending a male 'was wrong'

Sending a male CAMHS worker to hospital to speak to a 15-year-old girl who attempted suicide after being abused by her stepfather was “unfortunate and something we need to learn from”, Mr Kelly admitted.

“It’s a flaw in the system.”

Lauren did not want to speak to the male worker (the only CAMHS member of staff on duty that weekend) let alone be in a room alone with him – but she would have spoken to a female counsellor.

“It’s a resource issue but it’s something else we need to look at. It’s a piece of learning for me and I guarantee I will do something about that.”

'Significant' underfunding

Mr Kelly said he accepted mental health was underfunded compared with other services.

“Yes, I totally agree with that. If you look at cardiac or cancer for instance there is a significant disparity.

“If I could double my budget, that would help but it’s not all about resources. It’s also about organisations like the NHS and local authority social care working together more, structure and finding better ways of delivering.

“But mental health services are under-resourced, there’s no doubt.

“We would encourage children and their families or carers to share any concerns they have by contacting our customer services team on 01202 277024 or by emailing customerservices@dhuft.nhs.uk.

“Their concerns will always be taken seriously.”


  • NSPCC 0808 800 5000, nspcc.org.uk 
  • Childline 0800 1111, childline.org.uk
  • MOSAC (Mothers of Sexually Abused Children) 0800 980 1958, mosac.org.uk
  • Dorset Action on Abuse 01202 732424, dorsetactiononabuse.org.uk
  • ACTS FAST 01202 309 930, actsfast.org.uk