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Five disabled children die by suicide in one county in lockdown

14 July 2020

Five disabled children have died by suicide in the last three months in Kent according to a report in The Guardian.

Sarah Hammond, the Children’s Social Work lead for Kent said that normally ‘two or three' child suicides would be ‘expected’ within a year.

The children had special needs, including autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder which may have made it difficult for them to cope without school routines.

New research from the National Child Mortality Database also points to an increase in child suicides nationwide in the first two months of lockdown. Twenty-five children died by suicide in 56 days. The report says: “The causes are unclear… but restrictions to education and other activities, disruption to care and support services, tensions at home and isolation appeared to be important factors.”

In the three months before lockdown, there were 26 child suicides.

The NCMD report said: “We found a quarter of individuals both pre- and post-lockdown had ASD or ADHD. Although the finding of increased risk is unconfirmed statistically, clinicians and services should be aware of the possible increase and the need for vigilance and support.”

The Kent suicides involved three boys and two girls aged 13-17. A further two boys made serious suicide attempts resulting in life-changing injuries, and a pair of care leavers (young adults) also died by suicide.

The children would have been eligible to remain in school during lockdown. Nationally, not all families of disabled children have felt able to send children to school due to shielding or fears about Coronavirus. Sarah Hammond said: “I do believe that people thought that the vulnerable children would continue to go to school. We worked really, really hard to get parents to send their children in, but we never got above 10% [of ‘vulnerable’ children to attend],” she said.

“All through this pandemic, this whole group of children could and should have been at school. But it was the severity of message about the danger of the virus that very understandably frightened parents. We are absolutely desperate for children and young people not to become the forgotten victims of this terrible virus,” she said.

DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “It is heartbreaking and shocking that these children have taken their lives. It is also absolutely appalling that a director of services can ‘expect’ any number of child suicides on their watch.

“We know from speaking to families that they often feel failed by the support, adaptations and provisions offered for their children. Saying that disabled children’s best outcomes are based in schools is wrong. One size never fits all. We know that families too often feel the systemic support offered provides ‘tickbox’ solutions which do not meet their individual needs. We know that parents feel services often zealously apply blanket approaches to children with special needs without considering that what works for one family cannot work for another.

“It is evident that by insisting that attending school would have provided the best outcome for these children, Kent social services has failed to listen to what the families, who know their children best, wanted and needed.

“As long as councils lack the resources to be able to offer the individually tailored support that would offer the best outcomes for children, we will continue to bear witness to these horrific outcomes. With a person-centred approach to solutions, such suicides are avoidable. It’s time for a sea change in children’s services.”