The Irish Times view on children’s mental health services: the long wait for help

The HSE target is that all children seeking an appointment should be seen within 12 weeks, but this is met in only about half of all cases

We have been warned to expect a “tsunami” of mental health problems in the aftermath of the pandemic. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

We have been warned to expect a “tsunami” of mental health problems in the aftermath of the pandemic. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

 

A primary school child had 22 referrals by the Garda Síochána over five years due to his behavioural problems and was now deemed a risk to his mother and siblings; a teenager had 35 such referrals, one leading to what was described as a “hostage and/or suicide incident” in his home. Both children remained at home with support from the Child and Family Agency while suitable placements were sought for them. These are two of the four cases involving children with serious mental health issues published by the Child Care Law Reporting Project yesterday.

“Special care”, where children between 11 and 18 can be detained for therapeutic reasons, was not available to the young child because of his age. The teenage boy, who was offered a place in homeless accommodation, was considered a suicide risk by his GP, yet the consultant psychiatrist who saw him did not consider him actively suicidal and did not make a referral for inpatient assessment, as sought by his parents. The guardian ad litem said: “What can only be assumed is that there is a whole cohort of children ahead of him who are waiting for inpatient psychiatric assessment”.

We have been warned to expect a 'tsunami' of mental health problems in the aftermath of the pandemic

These two children represent the human reality behind the waiting list for appointments with the child and adolescent mental health service, which have been stuck at around 2,500 for years. The HSE target is that all children seeking an appointment should be seen within 12 weeks, but this is met in only about half of all cases. Of the 2,613 children on the waiting list in January, 283 have been waiting for more than a year.

The Oireachtas has been told that this is largely due to difficulties in recruiting medical staff, with 20 per cent of consultant posts lying vacant. It also reflects the low priority afforded to mental health services over the years. Only six per cent of the State’s health budget goes to mental health services, compared with 12 per cent in the UK.

We have been warned to expect a “tsunami” of mental health problems in the aftermath of the pandemic. How many more children in desperate distress will be unable to get the help they need?

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