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Dave Hill: We must stabilise the secure children’s home market

Dave Hill
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I’m sure you’ve all seen the headlines recently about the crisis in the NHS.

Commentators are rightly making the link between the shortage of hospital beds with adult social care, but what about the impact on children’s lives and the interaction of health services with children’s social care?

Take mental health, for example; again there have been many headlines in recent months about the crisis in child and adolescent mental health services due to years of underfunding and under-prioritisation. While it is good that this issue is being highlighted, it is important this momentum translates into change.

In extremely rare cases where children who are violent towards themselves or others, or are seriously out of their depth with unscrupulous adults, the only option is for the council to seek a secure placement on mental health or welfare grounds. It is important to note a secure placement isn’t a punishment; it’s protective and can only be made with the agreement of the courts.

Many of these children will have experienced abuse, neglect, trauma or personal loss and their risk-taking behaviour is often a symptom of this. We need to get to the root of issues to prevent problems from escalating to a point of crisis. Some of these children would be better supported via a secure mental health placement otherwise known as ‘tier 4,’ but a placement in a secure children’s home is often the only option.

In any case there are issues here too; it can take days or even weeks to find a secure children’s home place, regardless of the severity of the situation. The number of secure children’s homes has declined significantly in recent years and the difficulties in tier 4 are compounding pressures on this vital provision too.

Timely access to appropriate mental health services can make a huge difference to children and young people’s wellbeing. Providing help and support earlier can, in some cases, prevent lifetime mental health problems from developing in the first place. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services is engaging with the Department for Education and the Department of Health on this matter as well as the expert working group looking at the mental health of children in care co-chaired by my predecessor Alison O’Sullivan.

More must be done to make sure that mental health support appropriately reflects the needs of children and young people and that stability is brought to the secure children’s home market in the near future.

Dave Hill, director for people commissioning, Essex CC and president, ADCS

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