Mental health services for minors in last decade ‘woefully inadequate’, says Minister for Children

Mental health needs of young people in the care and youth justice systems not being met, report finds

James Behan:  “Growing up in the care system I... have seen a lot of things I would consider problems.”  Photograph: Conor McCabe

James Behan: “Growing up in the care system I... have seen a lot of things I would consider problems.” Photograph: Conor McCabe

Fri, Jul 12, 2013, 01:00

Mental health services for children and adolescents over the last decade can only be described as “woefully inadequate”, the Minister for Children, Francis Fitzgerald, said yesterday.

She was speaking at the launch of a report by the Children’s Research Network which found that the mental health needs of vulnerable young people in the care and youth justice systems were not being met.

Ms Fitzgerald said the study reaffirmed that “both the care system and youth justice system remained challenging places for young people who already . . . face many challenges”. But she also noted that the positive experiences of young people who had valued relationships with professionals, were also reflected.

“Clearly this report identifies that there is work to be done; it also acknowledges the progress in different areas,” she said, adding that it was “really valuable to have a compilation of data about the young people in these systems”.

She said there was a need for services to become “more and more sophisticated” around interagency work and called for professionals to take a fresh look at how services are delivered.

Ms Fitzgerald said that she hoped and expected that the establishment of the new Children and Family Support Agency, legislation on which is due to be published today, would help make a difference to children, families and professionals in the sector.

She said that, in relation to aftercare, she was examining whether a right to assessment should have a statutory underpinning.

Orla Barry, the director of Mental Health Reform and incoming chair of the Children’s Mental Health Coalition, said the report showed that young people experiencing trauma and distress required an integrated and co-ordinated response from State services that was “child-centred rather than service-protective”.

“Consulting children and young people currently in the care and justice systems about their needs is crucial to the development of the right mental health supports in order to better futures not just for them, but for society as whole,” she said.

James Behan, a care leaver who helped compile a questionnaire for the eight young adults interviewed in the report, said it was “about time” that there was a “huge focus” on youth mental health.

“Growing up in the care system I . . . have seen a lot of things I would consider problems,” he said.

“I was lucky to be in one place my whole time in care but not everyone is that lucky . . . I have met others who have moved around several times since they were a child. . .and they were very damaged.”

Quotes from eight young adults interviewed about their care experiences as part of the Someone to Care study as well as professionals in the care and youth justice systems.

“I could have been so much more...I didn’t reach my full potential because of all the issues I had.”

I just think, yes, they’re living in care, and they’ve come from crap backgrounds, but that doesn’t bhave to define them. I mean treat them like the way you would treat your own child, any other child.”

“I trust nobody...I had to learn how to love myself. And these are things that proper counselling could have given me.”

At the time I would have ‘I hate it’. And now I would have said, ‘It’s the best thing that ever happened to me’. But that’s because I know what could have, or what would have happened...if I hadn’t gone into care. So I can say now it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. But when I was in care it was horrible.”

“It’s a big bad world when you when you turn 18, and the children in care don’t know what’s going to hit them.”

“I was lucky. I was lucky to be put where I was put.”

“My foster parents were really the only family I ever had really. So they’re my Mam and Dad and they see me as their daughter”

“Not many kids who’re in foster care actually get listened to. Well, they do, but it goes in one ear and out the other. As fast as they’re talking it’s gone.”

Social worker:
“When we place a child in care we’re constrained by what we have available. We can have a good sense of what they need but, but no suitable placement available. We’re constantly being faced with that predicament.”

Social worker
“These kids fall between too many stools.” r

“I read all the previous assessments that get done, and done, and re-done. And I look at them and I have no idea who this child is, or anything about them.”

“The single biggest impact on kids’ mental health and the system itself.”