The Irish government’s response to a UN commission on what it plans to do to improve mental health care for children has been labeled “disappointing”.
Groups representing children and mental health advocates gathered in the office of the Ombudsman for Children on Wednesday to watch a live screening of Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman addressing a UN committee in Geneva.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child questioned Mr O’Gorman and officials over two days on issues affecting Irish children, including the findings of an interim report to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).
The Mental Health Commission report found disjointed services, with acceptance rates of acute mental health referrals ranging from 38% to 81%.
It also found that some teams failed to monitor children on antipsychotic medications, most services lacked an IT system to manage appointments, and there was no dedicated funding for mental health services for children.
Responding to a question from a member of the UN committee about whether admissions of children to adult mental health wards would be reduced to zero, an Irish official said this is only being done “as a last resort”.
“The vast majority of children’s admissions to adult units are for children in the 16 to 17 age range,” the health ministry official said.
“Importantly, admission to an adult ward can be more appropriate for the individual and to avoid any potential impact on younger children in CAMHS inpatient units.
“As such, and taking into account the clinical needs of the child and the services they require, Ireland may not reach a point where there are absolutely no children using adult facilities.”
Ber Grogan, of the umbrella group Mental Health Reform, told the PA news agency: “Today’s biggest takeaway is that we are disappointed with the lack of ambition around the government’s plans, especially when we talk about still allowing children’s mental health units for adults.”
She said that when children under the age of 18 are admitted to adult mental health units, “there is automatically 0% compliance with the Mental Health Commission’s regulations and rules regarding inpatient mental health”.
“Why do we say it’s okay to do something that violates children’s human rights?
“With the Mental Health Bill reform underway, we have the opportunity to ban that practice. And to make sure that the under 18s or even the cohort up to the age of 21 or 23 actually get the care and support they need from the trained professionals who are trained to deal with underage teens or young people as well.
“So that’s a big disappointment today.”
Nuala Ward, director of research for the Ombudsman for Children, told PA she was also disappointed with the state’s response to mental health issues.
“I think the minister has spoken very well. And to be fair to the state, they clearly take the UN involvement very seriously, having sent quite a large delegation of officials – on education, on health, and of course led by the minister.
“The one area where we were slightly disappointed is that in light of this week’s report, we would have expected a stronger response to the mental health issue. light of everything happened.
“But of course today is just one day, we will follow up proactively – that can’t go away.”
On Thursday evening, a number of children and mental health advocates will gather at Leinster House and take a seat in the public gallery to hear Health Secretary Stephen Donnelly answer questions in the Dail about the report on CAMHS.
Mental Health Reform, representing 81 members, is coordinating the group meeting in the Dail ahead of the Minister’s statement at 5.15pm.
Among the groups sending representatives are the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), the Children’s Rights Alliance, the charities Shine and A Lust for Life, ADHD Ireland and the LGBT youth group BeLonG To.
ISPCC chief John Church, one of the attendees at the Dail on Thursday, said: “The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, during the state inquiry into Ireland, has highlighted many challenges facing children in Ireland, including those at the field of mental health.
“The state’s response to the Mental Health Commission’s questions and the Mental Health Commission’s report fell somewhat short of acknowledging the very real crisis our mental health care for children and youth finds itself in. And indeed, the very real harm that has been done to children using that service, with some getting ‘lost’ in the system.
“It is welcome that Minister O’Gorman has stated that he recognizes that Ireland needs to do more to fully realize children’s rights in many areas.”
Mr Church also asked Mr O’Gorman to “defend” a recommendation to launch a Pathfinder project for youth mental health in schools.
“There can be no further delay if we really want to recognize the health rights of children and young people and do our utmost to have world-class mental health care,” he said.