Review demands ‘urgent reform’ of children’s mental health services

Koulla Yiasouma said the system is under pressure
Koulla Yiasouma said the system is under pressure

Children and young people’s mental health services are under pressure and need urgent reform, it has been claimed.

Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, said an overhaul is needed to respond to the scale of “need and complexity” of young people’s issues.

Launching the Still Waiting review, Ms Yiasouma said lengthy waiting times, drug and alcohol issues and reliance on medication to treat mental ill-health are some of the areas that need to be addressed.

“The system is under pressure and must reform urgently to respond to the scale of need and complexity of issues our children and young people have, to support their families and to allow the professionals working within the system to care for our children effectively,” she said.

The commissioner launched a review in June 2017 in which she spoke to children and young people about their experiences of accessing, or trying to access, support for their mental health.

It considered support provided by GPs, the education system, the voluntary and community sector, specialist mental health services, accident and emergency, and hospital care.

It also heard from parents, carers and professionals working within the system.

Ms Yiasouma said she found “the system wanting” in areas including lengthy waiting times; a high proportion of children not being accepted to specialist services; problems with access to services for children with learning difficulties, or drug and alcohol issues; unacceptable failings in the care of children in mental health crises; and reliance on the use of medication to treat mental ill-health.

“However, all these areas can be addressed if prioritised – even now without an Executive,” she added.

“Even though many young people told us about the challenges they faced in accessing the right support, eight out of 10 said they would encourage others to seek help for their mental health, and we have certainly found professionals going above and beyond to support young people within extremely stretched resources.”