New mental health proposals unclear on children and young people

The rights of children and young people have not been properly considered in the latest mental health proposals, according to campaign charity Rethink.

The government announced last week that the much-criticised Mental Health Bill 2004 was to be abandoned in favour of a shorter version that will be “simpler to understand and less costly to implement”.

But a spokesperson for Rethink said that some of the good aspects of an otherwise bad bill had been lost and that, as it stood, civil liberties were at risk.

“Special considerations for under-16s who need compulsory treatment have been dropped,” he said. “As few beds around the country are allocated to children, they often have to be placed in adult wards. This is clearly not in their best interest. Young people will not get the appropriate care they have a right to, or have the safeguards they need.”

Access to advocacy has also been dropped in the amended version of the bill. The new proposals will instead retain the status quo and deny the right for anyone detained under the Act – including those under 16 – to appoint an advocate to help them and speak on their behalf.

In announcing the revised bill, the Department of Health gave little detail on how its plans would affect children and young people. A statement read: “Children detained under the Mental Health Act will continue to receive the same safeguards as adults. We will also look at ways we can pursue other patient safeguards, such as advocacy, through other means.”

However, children’s mental health charity YoungMinds said campaigning organisations had been successful in changing the 2004 bill, and the latest move by the government created a chance to influence things further.

“This provides a real opportunity to look afresh at the issues that face children, young people and their mental health, and to consult with them on the issues that matter in their lives and the services they need,” a spokesperson said.

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