Report criticizes mental health services for children

Some of the state’s most vulnerable children are ending up in care because they can’t access mental health services, a hard-hitting report published Wednesday warned.

Children’s distress is being left to grow and worsen, their families are forcibly fragmented and vulnerable parents are left unsupported, says the Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP) report. .

Human rights are being violated and fair procedures are undermined, while children are left in care for too long, not reunited with families and in some cases exposed to sexual abuse. Granted, a family law system is “in dire need of reform”.

Project Led by Dr. carol coulter, established in 2012 under the Child Care Act, primarily to report on and investigate court orders made under the Act relating to the care of children.

Its eighth analytical study, RIP for Reform, is based on 403 District Court and high Court Cases between 2018 and 2021 in its 114 pages.

Children faced a range of issues, including abuse, chronic neglect, non-accidental injuries, sexual assault, homelessness, domestic violence, exposure to inappropriate sexual material or behavior, parental addiction and self-harm Is.

Some children were living in homes without food, proper clothes or lack of cleanliness. There were reports of head lice infestations, poor school attendance and missing medical appointments.

In High Court cases involving 15 children, several complex issues arose, including who should look after children whose fathers murder their mothers; Inadequate protection for girls in care at risk of sexual abuse, including by organized gangs; Inadequate guidance to address the needs of transgender youth in care; and a legal requirement for wardship applications in cases where an anorexic child requires naso-gastric feeding.

The ‘failure’ of social services

A “disappointing feature” of many cases is the “failure” of social services within an acceptable time for children’s emotional, behavioral and psychological problems.

The report said, “Over and over again, the child’s history provided to the court included details of where help for the child was sought…

Often, apparently distressed children “did not meet eligibility criteria to receive assistance from mental health services”, while others were “subjects”, including sexual-abuse victims. [to] Prolonged childcare proceedings … without any medical assistance”.

Speaking prior to publication, Dr Coulter said: “We have seen cases where a child experiencing mental health issues is admitted to care or made a court ward as part of crisis intervention .

“In some of these cases, the parent, far from failing the child, may seek placement as a means of providing protection and support to the child, and where they have sought and received mental health services. not done.”

The report said delays in completing child and parent assessments, obtaining expert reports and receiving treatment were increasing difficulties and failing family reunification.

parental addiction

Consideration should be given to the establishment of an independent service to “provide qualified expert evidence in child and family proceedings and to recommend referral for appropriate support and treatment,” the report said.

Parental addiction is “the main reason for a significant proportion of children coming in and staying in care”, it says. “Many of these parents have the potential to overcome their addiction, become parents safely, and reconnect with their children.”

Family drug and alcohol courts “have found a positive effect on the rate of family reunification … reducing the number of children in care in other jurisdictions” and “a cost-effective intervention”.

The COVID-19 pandemic created a “perfect storm” where at-risk children were seen less by teachers and other care professionals, the home environment became more difficult, services were closed, family access was reduced or refused and the court hearing was adjourned.

“Unless additional resources are made immediately available to the court service, children may have to wait even longer for a hearing date in some parts of the country,” the report said.

In all, 22 recommendations have been made, including the immediate establishment of a dedicated Family Court; a time limit on how long a child can remain in interim care; measures to ensure the voice of the child in the care process; and ensuring that the mental health needs of children in care or at risk of entering care are met.

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