Victorian mental health system not responding to kids’ needs
6 June 2019 at 5:09 pm
Children as young as 13 are being treated in adult mental health facilities with some kept for months longer than necessary, an independent review has found.
The Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) has slammed the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for fostering a “climate of uncertainty and distrust” within mental health services for children across the state.
VAGO’s report said DHHS had taken a one‐size‐fits‐all approach to the mental health system and failed to respond to the unique needs of children.
In 2017/18, Victorian clinical mental health services treated 11,945 children, an 11.5 per cent increase on the previous year.
Analysing inpatient data from 2016 to 2018, VAGO found children as young as 13 have been admitted to adult mental health facilities.
There were also 29 cases of young people staying in mental health facilities for a “clinically unnecessary” period.
This included one child with disability who stayed in a mental health ward for 268 days – despite only needing to be held for two weeks.
“DHHS has never analysed the use of adult inpatient beds for children and adolescents and does not monitor the issue despite it being clinically inappropriate, inconsistent with legislation, and a potential indicator of significant demand pressures,” the report said.
The report made 20 recommendations for DHHS, including to develop strategic directions for youth mental health services and improve reporting and monitoring of the system.
DHHS accepted all the recommendations, noting their implementation will be shaped by the outcomes of the Victorian royal commission into mental health – which has its final report due in October next year.
But opposition mental health spokesperson Emma Kealy attacked the Andrews Labor government for using the royal commission “as a shield” to avoid making changes the sector needed now.
“There are steps that Daniel Andrews can take now, as recommended by the auditor-general, to better support Victoria’s most vulnerable and fix this broken system,” Kealy said.
“Victorian children and youths simply can’t wait for another report to tell us the mental health system is in crisis.”
A government spokesperson told Pro Bono News that DHHS already had planning work underway to implement the report’s recommendations.
“We’ve made record investments in our mental health system but know there is so much more to do to give children, young people and all Victorians suffering mental illness the support they need,” they said.
“This report… provides valuable insight into our current system and confirms why the royal commission is needed.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing issues with mental health, please contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Q Life 1800 184 527, or headspace on 1800 650 890.