Follow-up care ‘lacking’ for young offenders prescribed psychiatric drugs

Succession of government policies have failed to reverse longstanding problems with care, report finds

By Rachel Schraer

Young offenders with mental health needs are too often left with inadequate follow-up support after being prescribed medication, a report has found.

A lack of resources and high staff turnover at children’s mental health services are proving “detrimental” to care, found research by charities YoungMinds and the Transition to adulthood alliance. Staff have “little time” to give young people the direct and ongoing support they need to address wider social issues impacting their health, the report found.

The report is based on interviews with 56 young people and professionals on their experiences of care for people aged 16 to 25.

One young person with multiple needs said: “The psychiatrist put me on the medication, and then he said, ‘I’ll see you three months, four months and that will be it’. Left me. There was no therapy then, there was no community psychiatric nurse, there was no social worker, there was nothing.

“I was left on my own with all these tablets. And he was giving me a month’s worth of tablets. I did OD, I think, twice on them, and they still gave me them.”

The research found that over 50 government initiatives and legislative changes over the past 20 years had failed to reverse longstanding problems with care.

Tight referral criteria means only children with severe mental health needs are being seen by services, the report found. Those that are accepted for care often face long waiting lists, leading to people self-medicating with drugs or alcohol to plug the gaps in support.

Mental health provision for young people in transition from children’s to adult services is still “inadequate” despite numerous attempts at improvement, the report found.

Joyce Moseley, chair of the Transition to Adulthood Alliance, said: “By not providing appropriate and effective mental health services we are just funnelling young people into the criminal justice system with all the stigma and exclusion that brings. It doesn’t make sense for them, for their families and communities or the taxpayer. We do know what is needed – the political and professional will to deliver it.”

Sarah Brennan, chief executive of YoungMinds, said commissioners should review children’s and adult services referral thresholds to improve transitional care.

“Young people and society deserve better. We should not be writing these young people off and risking them becoming engulfed in a life of crime which will dictate their futures because they did not receive the help they desperately needed,” said Brennan.

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