Wednesday 13 December 2017

Children 'lost forever' after being sent to adult psychiatric facilities, lawyer warns

Picture posed. Thinkstock Images
Picture posed. Thinkstock Images
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

An Oireachtas committee has heard scathing criticism of mental health services for children.

Child law solicitor Gareth Noble told TDs and senators of “scandalously long” waiting times for appointments, while 15 counties have no out of hours and weekend crisis services.

Dozens of young people are also being admitted to adult wards each year because there are no places for them in services for children, he told a meeting of the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs.

The failings, he said, represent “an unacceptable series of ongoing breaches of children’s rights” and were “a serious dereliction” of the duty of care towards children.

Mr Noble said the lack of capacity had been compounded by the recent removal of eleven beds from the Linn Dara facility in west Dublin.

He said there were now 2,419 children waiting for appointments with the HSE’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), 218 of whom have been waiting more than a year and 762 for more than six months.

Some 67 children were admitted to inappropriate adult wards in 2016, he said.

“Adult psychiatric facilities aren’t the American celebrity clinics we see on television with a gym and samba lessons. They are challenging and difficult environments populated by very vulnerable individuals who often present with a range of mental health concerns,” he said.

“Some exhibit huge levels of distress and on occasion can be physically threatening.”

The solicitor said he had seen examples of young people returning home having been exposed to such environments “being lost forever as a result of such trauma”.

“Effective recovery can only happen within the confines of a dedicated, safe and appropriate facility,” he said.

Mr Noble also highlighted the lack of a joined up response between hospital services and those in the community, sometimes with tragic and fatal consequences.

“I have spoken to many parents who leave hospital facilities with their children without an appropriate onward community based plan to ensure a continuum of care. Some leave without having been re-engaged in community services or who have to go on waiting lists once again to access such services,” he said.

“Reintegration plans with an appropriate suite of supports are essential if children and young people are to move on with their lives.

“We have all seen reports from the coroners courts of the particularly fragile position of many young people discharged from inpatient care without the necessary supports and the truly awful consequences that such a lack of care may ultimately lead to.”

The committee has been hearing submissions as part of a public consultation process on mental health.

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