Mental health services for abused children ‘inadequate’

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC. Picture by Benajmin Girling Wilson/NSPCC SUS-160126-175817001
Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC. Picture by Benajmin Girling Wilson/NSPCC SUS-160126-175817001
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Mental health services for abused children are ‘inadequate’ and should be prioritised – according to national children’s charity the NSPCC.

Figures released by the charity show 90 per cent of psychologists, GPs, teachers and social workers believe children who have suffered trauma from physical and sexual abuse face problems accessing therapy.

The NSPCC said children who have been abused often develop chronic mental health problems, become suicidal, or self harm before therapy becomes available to them as a result of longer waiting lists,

A survey of more than 1,000 professionals – including 142 based in the south east – said waiting times, reductions in funding and higher thresholds for therapy were making it harder for children to access support.

While abused and neglected children are often referred by GPs and local authorities such as West Sussex County Council to CAMHS, not all abused children will have a diagnosable mental health problem which means they are not referred directly to mental health services.

However, experts argue many will still need therapeutic support to help them deal with their trauma and reduce the chance of chronic mental health conditions developing in the future.

One GP, based in the south east reported to the NSPCC that 50 per cent of children they refer are refused an appointment as they ‘don’t fulfil the criteria’.

Dr Michelle Lefevre of the Department of Social Work and Social Care, University of Sussex said: “It is crucial that children who have experienced abuse are able to receive skilled therapeutic support.

“We know that child abuse and neglect adversely affect children’s health, emotional wellbeing, and their cognitive and social development.

“Therapeutic support and interventions are a crucial way of enabling children to process trauma and start to rebuild their lives.”

According to NSPCC figures, around half (49 per cent) of the respondents in the south east said in the last six months waiting times had been a barrier to support from local CAMHS. More than half (63 per cent) blamed therapy thresholds for causing problems getting help for the children they worked with and 44 per cent described cuts in available services.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “It shames our nation that children who have suffered abuse languish for months and even years without support. It’s Time to ensure that they automatically get the help they need to recover. We know that children are often left alone to deal with the corrosive emotional and psychological consequences of appalling abuse and that all too often they face long waits for help with their trauma, or the services offered aren’t appropriate for children whose lives have been turn upside down by their experiences: this must change.

“The views of professionals in this survey speak loud and clear.

“The Government and those that commission services urgently need to increase what is currently available to support this most vulnerable group of children.

“Getting help to these children earlier is vital and can prevent longer term damage to the lives of those who have survived the horror of abuse.”

The NSPCC has today (January 26) launched a long-term campaign, IT’s Time, to raise awareness of the barriers abused children face getting help to rebuild their lives – and call for improved access to therapeutic services that meet their specific needs. The campaign wants initially to rally at least 100,000 members of the public to its cause. Supporters are being asked to exert pressure on MPs and Ministers, in order to get funding prioritised for this vulnerable and forgotten group.

Coastal West Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group (CGG) has been approached for a comment.

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