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In adult hospital wards, children with mental health issues face 'extreme distress'

Vulnerable minors are not receiving the care and support they deserve, the children’s ombudsman has said.

Image: Shutterstock/sumroeng chinnapan

JUST OVER FOUR years ago, the Fine Gael-Labour programme for government committed to ending the placement of minors in adults psychiatric wards.

But the practice has continued, denying children and teenagers with mental health issues the “care, compassion and treatment” they deserve, according to the children’s ombudsman, Dr Niall Muldoon.

Ahead of the launch of his office’s annual report today, Muldoon said that the lack of beds in adolescent psychiatric wards had forced an unacceptable number of children into either adult psychiatric wards or paediatric wards, where no mental health support is available.

There, instead of receiving appropriate treatment, they are just put on suicide watch, according to Muldoon, a former clinical psychologist.

This is a gross interference with their human rights,” he said.

The ombudsman’s report, published today, criticises the length of delay in placing minors in appropriate adolescent facilities, which it says is due in part to the lack of placements and level of demand.

“Parents raised concerns that such inappropriate placements meant that no meaningful intervention could take place in the setting and that, as a result, their children’s mental health needs were not being adequately addressed,” the report notes.

According to figures released in August, a total of 50 minors – just under a third of the total number of young people admitted to inpatient units - were placed in adult facilities in the first six months of this year.

Some 30% (15) were discharged either the same day or within two days of admission, while 60% (30) were discharged within a week.

Ombudsman Children report 2 Dr Niall Muldoon crticised inappropriate placements at the launch of the ombudsman for children's annual report. Source: Mark Stedman

Different needs

The practice has long been criticised by the Mental Health Commission, whose code of practice states that no child under the age of 18 should be admitted to an adult unit except for in “very exceptional circumstances”.

In a 2013 report, the state’s mental health watchdog called the situation “most unsatisfactory”.

Dr Shari McDaid of Mental Health Reform has also called for an end to the practice.

“The reality is that adult wards are not an age-appropriate environment for minors. It can cause extreme distress for children to be around adults with severe mental health difficulties who have different needs to their own,” she told TheJournal.ie.

Children need an environment tailored to them in terms of activists, facilities and support.

Delayed assessment 

Speaking today, Muldoon also criticised the inappropriate placement of minors in prison and direct provision.

He urged the government to commit to introducing legislation to ensure all 17-year-olds are moved out of Wheatfield and St Patrick’s prisons immediately, and to give his office oversight of the direct provision system.

According to his annual report, the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) only assessed one in five reports of child abuse within the target time of 21 days in the second quarter of last year, leaving over 2,000 children without immediate support.

“It is crucial that any child reported as being at risk of abuse is catered for in the best possible manner and receives the best service within the quickest possible time according to their needs,” the report said.

Read: Nurses threaten strike action as Galway mental health staff refuse to work over safety concerns

Read: Four years after his suicide, Gary Speed’s family find support in Ireland

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Catherine Healy

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