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Children with learning difficulties being ‘hidden away’ from society, review finds

Young people with complex learning difficulties are being hidden from society, and their families, a case system review claims. The Council for Disabled Children (Lehehan review) found a serious lack of vision and accountability despite a number of Government initiatives aimed at improving the system. As a result, it says, some children are “institutionalised” from an early age.

Leo Andrade’s son Stephen lives miles away from home. He has learning difficulties and autism but is being kept in a psychiatric unit. His family make the 80-mile journey for what is sometimes a meeting that lasts only a matter of minutes.

It’s an ongoing battle for his mother, who believes Stephen is being institutionalised. She just wants him back. “If it is suggested for your child to go into an institution, I ask you, consider what you’re doing,” she said.

“Please try and say ‘no’ to that. Because whilst our young people go into these institutions, they’re stuck there. They’re lost.

“That’s precisely what happened to Stephen.” NHS England estimates there were more than under the age of 25 with autism or learning disabilities in inpatient care last year. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 children were in year-round residential schools.

The cost of this inpatient care and treatment is around ?1 million per child every three years. It was the exposure of the abuse of patients at Winterbourne View[1] six years ago that prompted change – and an end to the institutionalisation of young people, of their isolation and the distress it causes. But a new report reveals how children and young people with disabilities are still being failed by the system.

Dame Christine Lehehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, said: “It doesn’t intervene early. It doesn’t recognise their rights to childhood. “It doesn’t support families to the levels families need.

And when children then fail at every level of the system to be supported, they end up in very, very expensive institutional care – and for lots of them, we don’t understand the way out.” This report, it’s hoped, will be a catalyst for change. A chance for new models of care to be provided.

A chance for people like Stephen to come home. Charity Mencap branded it “shameful” that an effective working model for children in care had not been developed six years on from the Winterbourne View scandal. Jan Tregelles, chief executive, said:” No one should have to spend their childhood facing an increased risk of physical restraint, seclusion and the use of anti-psychotic medication.

“Yet this is the reality for many due to a system that sends children and young people in crisis to expensive and inappropriate settings rather giving them and their families good support earlier on.

“This welcome report highlights the urgent need for agencies to stop “passing the buck” and to work together.”

References

  1. ^ Winterbourne View (www.itv.com)

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