It was clear from The Big Ask that children today value their mental and physical wellbeing and recognise how important good mental and physical health is as part of a good childhood and a successful adulthood. While most children were happy or fine, 20% were worried about their mental health and it was children’s biggest worry overall. What children mean by mental health is clearly a wide spectrum, encompassing everyday emotions like sadness and worries all the way through to fully diagnosed conditions like eating disorders.
That is why health has been one of my key priorities since I became Children’s Commissioner. When it comes to mental health, I want to see problems addressed as soon as they emerge. But I also want to understand more about children’s experiences of inpatient care, as it is my goal that no child should be living in an institution. As we work towards that goal, I want to ensure that institutions are as safe, loving and familial as every child deserves.
That is why my office are looking into mental health inpatient care as part of the Family Review. I want to know how inpatient units create that space for family for the children in their care, and how they support children’s positive relationships. To understand this, my office is visiting several inpatient mental health units across England to understand if in-patient units are supporting and replicating the protective effect of the family. This might include looking at family visiting rooms, and understanding how the best visiting rooms support visits and family relationships. I also want to know whether young people have an advocate and know who to go to if they have a complaint about their visiting or communication with family. It is so important that we ensure children feel safe, heard and understood in their care journey.
I also want to understand about children’s wider experiences on the ward – the activities they can participate in, their education, and their relationships with staff and peers. I want all children in these settings to be able to continue to pursue their education, enjoy their hobbies, and have caring, loving relationships as these are all such an important part of getting and staying well.
These visits will also inform my work to ensure that children’s voices are at the heart of reforms to the Mental Health Act. The Draft Mental Health Bill is the latest step towards changing the Mental Health Act, the legislation that says when you can be detained and receive mental health treatment without consent. My office have responded to the first iteration of the bill to make sure it prioritises children’s voices. The response can be found here. My office will continue to monitor the bill as it passes through parliament, drawing on the findings from these visits.