Hundreds of children held in police cells after being detained under Mental Health Act

Data obtained by BBC reveals children as young as 10 have been held in police cells due to problems accessing NHS units

This weekend another important story highlighting issues in the mental health crisis care system emerged. An investigation by the BBC’s The World this Weekend found that hundreds of children have been detained to police custody under the Mental Health Act because police officers did not have anywhere else to take them.

There were 305 detentions of under-18s to police custody in the first 11 months of 2013, data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from 42 police forces in England and Wales showed. The data showed that in 2011 there were 385 detentions and in 2012 there were 317 detentions. A 10-year-old in Gwent, south Wales, was detained to a police cell as no bed was available.

Police officers have powers under the Mental Health Act to take people they suspect as being mentally unwell to a “place of safety” – ideally an NHS unit – for an assessment. The Home Office has previously stated that police cells are not a suitable place of safety for section 136 detentions and should only be used as a last resort. Police officers have previously warned of problems accessing NHS places of safety.

Care and support minister Norman Lamb told the BBC that the level of detentions of under-18s to police cells was “unacceptable”. Read the BBC’s investigation in full here.

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