Exclusive: Services fail to reach children in secure homes

Children and young people in secure accommodation do not receive
the mental health treatment they need because of a lack of staff
training and poor relationships with service providers, according
to a Community Care survey, writes Jonathan

The survey of mental health issues in 30 secure children’s
homes and units found a high prevalence of mental health problems,
and disorders among children detained on welfare or justice

All the homes said young people in their units during the last
year had demonstrated mental health problems, including anxiety,
depression, hyperactivity, conduct disorders, and emotional and
behavioural problems. Just over half of the homes had witnessed
mental disorders in their residents, such as schizophrenia,
psychosis or manic depression.

Forty seven per cent of homes reported that young people in
their units had eating disorders, and a similar proportion of homes
referred to suicide attempts. All homes reported incidents of
self-harming, while just under half had sectioned a young person in
the last year.

Roy Walker, chairperson of the Secure Accommodation Network and
a regional secure unit manager, said: “It has been an area of
concern for a considerable period of time. We are concerned that
young people are locked up perhaps because there are not other
areas of accommodation, particularly around mental health issues.
Children are sometimes placed because we don’t know what else
to do with them.”

Despite the high prevalence of mental health problems within
secure units, one third of homes said none of their staff had
received any formal training in dealing with mental health

Furthermore, although two-thirds of homes said they had access
to local CAMHS for mental health support and services, nearly half
said they had difficulties in their relationship with the service.
Services were either non-existent, poorly resourced, understaffed,
too slow, or too dependent on personal relationships.

The survey responses also highlighted possible ways forward,
including removing barriers between health and social care, quicker
access to health professionals, more screening for mental health
problems on admission to secure units, the appointment of an
individual psychiatrist or psychologist to each home, and greater
access to specialist units.

“It is surely beholden on us to give young people in special
placements, the best help we can,” Walker said. “The concept of
corporate parenting is much spouted, but it always ends up at the
door of social services. What we need is more joined-up working. We
need to target more resources at children and young people with
special needs.”

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