Failings in mental health treatment for children and young people

Topics covered: Ridouts professional advice

An investigation by Community Care and BBC News has revealed that England is still failing too many children with mental health problems.  Many children and young people are being placed in hospitals hundreds of miles away from home.  It was also found that the number of children and young people being detained on adult mental health wards is rising.

The impact of sending unwell children so far away from home can isolate them from their family and friends at a time when they need this support network the most.  The children’s commissioner for England has said that the practice was of “serious concern.”

One consultant child psychiatrist said doctors face this problem every week.  “Sometimes we have to make 50 to 100 phone calls around the country looking for a bed.  They [young people] shouldn’t be shunted around into inappropriate facilities, however much the staff there try to help them.  It may be the first time they have had a breakdown.  They need to stay in touch with the people they know and love, and if they’re having to move 200 or 300 miles, it is very difficult to stay in touch.”

These findings have been revealed despite the government making efforts to introduce new strategies and policies to improve children and young people’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.  The Department of Health have said that children and young people’s mental health is a priority.

Community Care suggests that the true failure of the system is with regard to early intervention.  There should be a focus on helping to support children and young people when they start to struggle with their mental health.  At the heart of the problem is the failure to spot the signs and provide appropriate support when a child first starts displaying problems.  Two thirds of local authorities have made cuts to their Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) budgets since 2010 while charities have been warning them about the consequences of cuts to early intervention services.

A Department of Health spokesperson said the experience could be “very distressing” for children and their families.  He said “Our mental health crisis care concordat reinforces the duty on the NHS to make sure that people under 18 are treated in an environment suitable for their age, according to their needs.”  He added that the Department of Health had invested £54m to improve services “through better monitoring, sharing best practice and improving access to specialist talking therapies for young people.”

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