Children with learning disabilities or autism living in mental health hospitals

New research has revealed that too many vulnerable children with learning disabilities are being admitted to secure hospitals unnecessarily.

The finding forms part of the Children’s Commissioner for England and Wales’ new report, Far less than they deserve: Children with learning disabilities or autism living in mental health hospitals.

The study goes into great detail showing how too many children are being needlessly placed into institutions designed for mental health patients, sometimes for months or even years at a time.

Publishing the damning report, the children’s watchdog warned that the “current system of support” for those with learning disabilities or autism is “letting down some of the most vulnerable children in the country”.

According to the findings, some 250 children with a learning disability or autism were placed into a mental health hospital in February 2019. This is compared to just 110 in March 2015 – the last recorded data.

Upon investigation, it was found that around three-quarters of those placed into care had autism but not a learning disability, while one in seven had a learning disability only, while a similar number had both.

The data will alarm healthcare professionals who recognise that the needs of children with learning disabilities, autism, and mental health problems can vary greatly.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “There are around 250 children with a learning disability and/or autism in England living in children’s mental health wards. They are some of the most vulnerable children of all, with very complex needs, growing up in institutions often far away from their family home. For many of them, this is a frightening and overwhelming experience. For many of their families, it is a nightmare.

“A national strategy is needed to address the values and culture of the wider system across the NHS, education and local government so that a failure to provide earlier help is unacceptable, and admission to hospital or a residential special school is no longer seen as almost inevitable for some children. There has been report after report and promise after promise to address this issue and yet the number of children in hospital remains stubbornly high.”