The ninth edition of the Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card which analyses the Government on its key commitments to children was launched this week. The report identifies that during 2016 the promised review of Vision for Change was initiated and a Youth Mental Health Task Force was established. Disappointingly it once again highlights the inadequate availability of age appropriate mental health services, the unacceptably long waiting lists for accessing mental health support, the lack of out of hours services and the lack of an independent advocacy service for young people using mental health services. These inadequacies were identified by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in its review of the Irish Government’s progress towards implementation of the UNCRC in early 2016.
During 2016 there was an average of over 2000 children on the waiting list for mental health services at any given time, of which over 1000 were waiting in excess of three months. This situation has been exacerbated by the lack of primary care based psychological supports. Over 70 children per year are being admitted to adult mental health in-patient units.
What this year’s report card indicates is that little has improved for children and adolescents needing mental health services. Over the last five years the report cards have demonstrated consistent failures in this area. The reality is all service providers are trying their best to meet growing demands with reduced resources and staffing. The shift in culture necessary to address what is effectively a national scandal has not occurred.
We need to invest in the building of a world class child and adolescent mental health service. The involvement of all of the key partners, the voluntary sector, independent sector, HSE, primary care, schools, parents and young people themselves is crucial. We need to set clear goals which are child centred, demanding and recovery oriented which operate on the principle that children and adolescence can and will recover from mental health difficulties if they receive the right supports. The running of national awareness raising and prevention programmes needs to be integral to this process.
The time has come to live up to our constitutional commitments to children by truly valuing, as equal citizens, the rights of those most vulnerable citizens, children and adolescents experiencing mental health difficulties.
Paul Gilligan, B.A, M.A, DipClin Psych, ApPSI, RegPsychol, is a clinical psychologist and Chief Executive of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, the largest independent provider of mental health care in Ireland. He is an internationally recognised children’s rights and child protection advocate and provides consultancy services to a number of child protection organisations in Ireland and Europe.
He is former Vice-Chairman of the National Children’s Advisory Council and the Children’s Rights Alliance. He is also former President of the Psychological Society of Ireland. Before taking up his current post with St. Patrick’s, he was Chief Executive of the ISPCC. He is the author of “Keeping Your Child Safe” and “Raising Emotionally Healthy Children” and is a regular contributor to T.V., radio and print media.