A new study out of England is showing a shocking number of children are being detained in mental health hospitals unnecessarily and is calling for a "national strategy" to ensure more is being done to help these children before they end up in an institution. The research was conducted by the Children's Commissioner for England and found that many children, including those with learning disabilities and autism, are not getting the early help and support they need and subsequently are ending up in mental health facilities and institutions for extended periods of time, the BBC reports.
Children's Commissioner, Anne Longfield, wrote in her report that the growing number of children who are spending extended periods of time in mental health facilities are "unacceptably high" and there should be a "focus on children's journeys before they are admitted into inpatient care." Sadly that doesn't appear to be happening.
"Children, families, and staff working in this area spoke again and again about how the failure to provide appropriate support to children when they are in school and living in the community, and particularly when they reach a crisis point, has contributed to inappropriate hospital admissions and delayed discharges," the report reads.
The report indicates that the number of children in mental health facilities over the last four years has grown despite the introduction of the NHS Transforming Care program, a program designed to improve the quality of care those with learning disabilities and autism receive. The reports found that children who had a learning disability or were diagnosed with autism had spent on average six months living in a mental health facility and eight months inpatient care in total, the Independent reports. To make matters worse, 95% of these children were in facilities far from home which limits how often family members can have access and visit.
A spokesman for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) expressed the importance of children being able to receive care close to home. "No child should be left to languish alone and it's important that the government takes urgent action to provide high quality, community-based care that can prevent the need for children to be placed in secure hospitals."
"They are some of the most vulnerable children of all, with very complex needs, growing up in institutions usually far away from their family home," Longfield said of the findings in her report. "For many of them, this is a frightening and overwhelming experience. For many of their families, it is a nightmare."
A government spokesperson responded to the report stating the NHS is committed to providing quality care. “Autistic children and children with learning disabilities must receive high quality, safe and compassionate care," the spokesperson said. "We are determined to reduce the number of autistic people or people with learning disabilities in mental health hospitals – significant investment in community support has already led to a 22 percent reduction since March 2015," they added.
“The NHS is committed to reducing numbers of people with a learning disability and autistic people who are inpatients in mental health hospitals by 35 percent by the end of March 2020 and through the Long Term Plan we will reduce numbers even further by investing in specialist services and community crisis care and giving local areas greater control of their budgets to reduce avoidable admissions and enable shorter lengths of stay.”