-A A +A
Select color visibility that suits you Basic theme Dark theme Darker theme Text only

Children with learning difficulties and autism treated horrifically, finds Government report

01 November 2019

The Government's Joint Committee on Human Rights is calling for urgent change in the way that young people with learning difficulties and/or autism are treated in detention in mental health facilities. Its damning report paints a 'grim picture' of conditions for children taken away from their families and homes, calling conditions 'horrific', which cause suffering and long-term damage. The report summary begins:

"We regard ourselves as a civilised society with a respect for human rights. Most people would say we should take extra care to support young people and those who are disabled. But the brutal truth is that we are failing to protect some of the most vulnerable young people - those with learning disabilities and/or autism. And indeed, we are inflicting terrible suffering on those detained in mental health hospitals and causing anguish to their distraught families. The recent BBC Panorama programme showing taunting and abuse of patients at Whorlton Hall exposed the horrific reality for some. Too often the pathway to detention is predictable. It begins from before diagnosis. A family grows worried about their child. They raise concerns with the GP, and with the nursery or school. It takes ages before they get an assessment and yet more time passes before they get a diagnosis of autism. All that time they struggle on their own with their worries and without help for their child. This pattern continues throughout childhood as families are under-supported and what little help they have falls away when the child reaches the age of 18. Then something happens, perhaps something relatively minor such as a house move or a parent falls temporarily ill. This unsettles the young person and the family struggles to cope. Professionals meet to discuss what should happen, but parents are not asked for their views. Then the child is taken away from their home and the familiarity and routine which is so essential to them. They’re taken miles away and placed with strangers. The parents are desperately concerned. Their concerns are treated as hostile and they are treated as a problem. The young person gets worse and endures physical restraint and solitary confinement - which the institution calls “seclusion”. And the child gets even worse so plans to return home are shelved. The days turn into weeks, then months and in some cases even years. This is such a grim picture, yet it has been stark in evidence to our inquiry into the detention of young people with learning disabilities and/or autism. We have lost confidence that the system is doing what it says it is doing and the regulator’s method of checking is not working. It has been left to the media, notably the BBC, Sky News and Ian Birrell in the Mail on Sunday, to expose abuse. No-one thinks this is acceptable. There has been a succession of compelling reports including that from the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield OBE.

"Our proposals for change are urgent and they are not complicated. They include:

• The establishment of a Number 10 unit, with cabinet level leadership, to urgently drive forward reform to minimise the number of those with learning disabilities and/or autism who are detained and to safeguard their human rights.

• A review to be carried out by the Number 10 unit of the framework for provision of services for those with learning disabilities and/or autism. At a minimum Government should introduce:

   - a legal duty on Local Authorities and Clinical Commissioning Groups to ensure the availability of sufficient community-based services.

   - a legal  duty on Local Authorities and Clinical Commissioning Groups to pool budgets for care services for people with learning disabilities and/or autism.

• Stronger legal entitlements to support for individuals. The Government must act on legislative proposals put forward by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as well as those made by the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act 1983 and campaign groups.

• Care and Treatment Reviews and Care, Education and Treatment Reviews to be put on a statutory footing.

• The criteria for detention under the Mental Health Act must be narrowed to avoid inappropriate detention.

• Families of those with learning disabilities and/or autism must be recognised as human rights defenders, and other than in exceptional circumstances, be fully involved in all relevant discussions and decisions.

• Substantive reform of the Care Quality Commission’s approach and processes is essential. This should include unannounced inspections taking place at weekends and in the late evening, and the use, where appropriate, of covert surveillance methods to better inform inspection judgements."

DRUK's Chief Executive Kamran Mallick said: “We are horrified but unsurprised at these findings, and strongly back the calls to action from the Committee. The subjection of children and young people to conditions which affect their mental health in ways we would expect from Victorian asylums, not modern hospitals, must end immediately.”

The report can be read in full here: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201920/jtselect/jtrights/121/121.pdf

“We are horrified but unsurprised at these findings, and strongly back the calls to action from the Committee. The subjection of children and young people to conditions which affect their mental health in ways we would expect from Victorian asylums, not modern hospitals, must end immediately.”