Response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights Report

CDC shares the call from the Joint Committee on Human Rights for urgent changes to the practice of institutionalising children and young people which inflicts “terrible suffering” on them. CDC firmly believes that all children and young people have the right to be supported and protected. With the right support in place, young people with learning disabilities and autism can live full and safe lives without the need for inappropriate, lengthy and traumatic institutionalisation.

The inquiry examined the detention of young people, and found shocking conditions for, and treatment of, many young people who have been detained in mental health units across the country. We know from a wide range of investigations and reports, including the national review These are our children 2017 by CDC’s Director, Dame Christine Lenehan, that many children and young people do not receive the support they need in the community. As a result their needs escalate until they are placed in a mental health unit. These units are often unable to meet the young person’s wider educational, social and emotional needs, and they may face lengthy and ultimately traumatic stays.

Christine Lenehan, gave evidence to the Inquiry, and is quoted in the report:

“Importantly, for many young people with a learning disability and/or autism, a diagnosis should be made in early childhood. On this basis, local authorities should be able to effectively plan services that meet the needs of young people and their families long in advance, so that there is never, or very seldom, a need for admission. The current backlog for diagnosis, particularly for autism, limits opportunities to plan for individuals as they grow up.”

The Committee starkly found that it has “no confidence that the target to reduce the numbers of people with learning disabilities and/or autism in mental health hospitals, set out in the NHS Long Term plan, will be met”. The report also states “Too often families of young people, who may be desperately trying advocate on behalf of their children are considered to be the problem, when they can and should to be the solution”. Where the right support is not available locally, the situation can quickly degrade to a point where families feel they are forced to fight for their child, and services end up treating the family as adversaries, rather than allies. We know that it is vital that parents and families are engaged in the care and support of their children and young people.

We welcome the report’s recommendations to improve the care and treatment of children and young people with learning disabilities and autism. We recognise that improvements in support and local services will also benefit a far wider group of children. We strongly support the call for commissioning better and sufficient community support to meet children and young people’s needs and avoid unnecessary and inappropriate admissions and detention. We will continue to work to promote and protect the rights of all children and young people.