Today I’m reproducing an article I wrote for my family column in the weekly newspaper, The Gazette & Herald, which covers much of the county of Wiltshire. It was published on Thursday August 29 2013 and I’m reproducing it here at the request of one of my Twitter followers, an organisation which I much admire, Wiltshire Mind. To follow me on Twitter, you’d be most welcome at @mum3fi, and you can find the Gazette & Herald @wiltsgazette.
Some time ago, I wrote about an Ofsted report into the safeguarding of vulnerable children in Wiltshire and the fact that the county’s local authority had been found wanting.
I also reported on the fact that the 2012 report had prompted action to be taken and went through some of the measures to improve the situation for vulnerable and looked-after children in the county. I should point out that the report didn’t suggest any children had come to harm as a result of failings.
However, buried within that 2012 report was a comment which really stood out for me – and which I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of ever since.
It said ‘the established practice by police of using section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 to hold some children or young person in custody where they have committed an offence is inappropriate’.
It goes on to say ‘this practice is under review given that there is now a dedicated CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) out-of-hours service that can provide more timely and potentially more appropriate assessments’.
This prompted me to find out about Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983. It’s headed ‘mentally disordered persons found in public places’. It allows that a constable can remove and detain someone for up to 72 hours until he, or she, is examined by a registered practitioner or mental health professional.
What does this mean? Have the police in Wiltshire – or anywhere else for that matter – been holding young people and children, in custody for up to 72 hours when it’s suspected they might have mental health issues?
Since raising questions around two months ago, I’ve been on a journey of epic proportions around the ‘system’. But the answer to my key question is – yes.
A number of children each year have been arrested and held, usually when they’ve committed an offence, and the police believe mental health issues have contributed in some way.
Several times the term ‘Freedom of Information’ was used by various voices but last week I finally got some figures from Wiltshire Constabulary. They are:
2009 – four children (under-18s) were held under Section 136.
2010 – six.
2011 – four.
2012 – three.
But to confuse matters even further these are not the definitive figures. The police have recorded ‘pure’ cases – those where a child clearly has, at first point of contact, mental health issues. However, there have also been a number of cases where an arrest has been made and police officers have subsequently sought help as they’ve suspected mental health issues.
Taking these cases into account as well, the total number of children between the end of 2010 and the end of 2012 who were held under Section 136 was 23.
So what has been done about it? The Wiltshire Safeguarding Children Board (WSCB – partnership between Wiltshire Council, Wiltshire Police and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust) insists much has been done.
In December 2012, mental health services for under-18s was taken over by Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, known as Oxford Health. It immediately introduced the Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) Protocol.
To cut through the jargon this means when police officers respond to a young person in ‘significant mental health distress or crisis’, the officer contacts CAMHS from the scene by phone. They can do this 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Emergency mental health assessments can then be offered or an appointment within 24 hours.
The officer provides information including:
* Presentation – how is the young person behaving?
* Need for medical attention – is the young person hurt?
* Circumstances of the incident
* Concerns regarding safeguarding or welfare
The CAMHS worker checks the electronic health record system to see if that young person is known. If so, the worker may speak directly with the young person and propose a safety plan or speak to parents or carers.
If distress can be reduced through a phone conversation, the young person is normally offered an urgent assessment on the morning of the next working day. If concerns remain, an emergency assessment can be offered in a safe location such as a CAMHS clinic or police station within two hours.
If the young person is not known, there may be unknown risks and an urgent mental health assessment can be offered.
The options are discussed with the officer at the scene who always reserves the right to use a 136 detention or other police powers.
In a statement WSCB said:
“It’s a system which enables officers to gain a mental health perspective to inform their decision-making and consider alternative options. It also ensures CAMHS are alerted to mental health concerns at an early stage stage and can offer an urgent assessment whether the young person is detained or not.
“The benefits of this collaboration between mental health services and the police, is that distressed young people who require urgent mental health support can receive this quickly, in the least restrictive manner which ensures their immediate needs and risks are reduced.”
The Board says that so far, the new system is working.
“We are pleased to report as result of this protocol there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of 136 detentions under the Mental Health Act of young people under 18 years.
“In the last two years, prior to the introduction of the protocol, there were 23 ‘136’ detentions – this has reduced to three since December 2012.”
Mental health issues in the under-18s – how do the police deal with this?
We’re not talking about many children, of course, but we are talking about children. Children suspected of having some kind of mental health issue. Children who could, quite legally, be held for up to three days. Let’s hope this new support system keeps on working.
Today I’m writing about something very personal – something which those who are connected with me on Facebook may well have picked up already.
The truth is my godmother, who was 93 on Saturday, is dying. She’s slowly slipping away to whatever comes next. My family all knew this would happen at some point and I’m very thoughtful about it today. Maybe she’ll make her way up those golden steps in illustrious company as life seems to be pushing Nelson Mandela in the same direction.
As my family faces this moment, you may think we are all weeping at the thought of losing her – but we’re not. We are sad and reflective. But we’re glad that the end is coming for her. Is that very terrible?
When she was about 88 or so, she had a stroke which, over time, meant going into a supported nursing home. She’s a widow with no children of her own, her nieces were all over 60 themselves. I saw her several times in the home near Bath, where she has received first class care, and took the children with me, which has always delighted her.
But over the last couple of years, health episodes and further strokes have left her in a more or less vegetative state. She is unable to do anything for herself, is unable to communicate at all and it was only her eyes which gave you any clue if she actually knew you were in the room. Being there is more of a duty than a pleasure and that’s the truth of it.
From this information you might think that this is all very sad, an old lady slowly slipping away. But this ‘old lady’ was a strong, feisty woman, outspoken, sometimes ill-advisedly, and in love with her wider family. Born in 1920, she grew up in a poor family, the youngest child. She spent much of her life caring for her brother Bill, who was, what we called then, a spastic but, in today’s language, he was affected by cerebral palsy.
She married Ivan, who then went to serve in Burma during the war. Aunt Jean was, apparently well known as a well-dressed, beautifully turned out lady who lived life to the full. She had no children of her own and, when her parents died, she became a carer for Uncle Bill.
Wishing my godmother well on her final journey….
That’s what I remember from my childhood- Auntie Jean and Uncle Ivan living in a house with Uncle Bill, who was friendly but a little scary to me. She was my godmother, lived within a half mile of my grandparents, so we saw them often. She did tea and cake very well and had a very long garden with fields to the side where we could sometimes play. Her house felt dark with small rooms, a bit like a hobbit hole. It’s funny what the mind of a child remembers.
Later, after Uncle Bill and Uncle Ivan passed away, she seemed to live a quiet but happy life in her Somerset home and once a week visited my gran, her sister-in-law. They had regular spats, and I guess that was a theme of their relationship. When my gran died my Aunt Jean missed her terribly and made no bones about it.
Now she’s the last of that generation of the family – ironically she was the youngest and lived the longest. I sense she longs to be free of the prison of her body, and although I don’t see her much now, I’m aware that her leaving will widen the gap left by not having any of my grandparents or aunts or uncles from that generation. They filled my childhood to the brim as there were so many of them.
My message to her – good luck and God Bless Aunt Jean. I’d like to think I’d feel the moment when it comes, but I doubt I will. Thank you for all that you were to me and my sister, my mum and my dad, my aunts and uncles and my cousins. I hope what comes next brings you joy.
It’s with some pride that today I can shout about my new FAMILY column in the local weekly newspaper in Wiltshire. Rush out and buy it on Thursday! Or even better buy a subscription.
The Gazette & Herald, which covers Chippenham, Malmesbury, Devizes, Calne, Marlborough, Pewsey and all the villages in between, is sister paper to the Swindon Advertiser, the Wiltshire Times, Wiltshire Business and other publications.
My first Family pages for the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald on Thursday.
I’ll be writing about anything and everything which affects families and parents in these areas of Wiltshire, but I want to be interactive. I would welcome any suggestions for subject matter – both serious and more light-hearted. Interviews with people who live or work in the county are a key factor.
If you are a parent in Wiltshire who has had to grapple with difficult issues eg. domestic abuse, eating disorders, bereavement, obesity, mental health issues, bullying, caring, chronic illness, disability, debt, homelessness – please share your stories. What can others learn from your experience?
If you’ve got a consumer problem that you’ve been struggling with, I’ll try to help. Or if you are a parent who has achieved something amazing, let me know.
Sometimes I’ll be having a rant on something that’s annoyed me, there’ll be consumer items, guest blogs, and lots of mentions of social media. The more interactive the better. If you comment via letter, Twitter or Facebook, I may use those in the following week.
This is an adventure and I’d like you to join me – firstname.lastname@example.org
BBC’s Panorama ran a programme about the cost of childcare in the UK for working parents. It’s a hot potato but nothing new for a parent like me who has always worked since having my first child over 12 years ago.
Inevitably it brought out those who think parents should stay at home, look after their children and take a trip back to the 1970s in their home life – where do these people come from?
I personally have no problem at all with mums or dads who want, and can afford, to stay at home and look after the children. All I can say is that for me, it just wasn’t an option. There are two reasons for this – one, I need to contribute and work at least part-time, the other is that if I was a stay-at-home mum I would go stir crazy.
When I had my last child almost five years ago I had a year off work – and by the end of that time I was ill with boredom and monotony. Some parents love the stay-at-home life, some don’t and I just don’t. Even my older children noticed how grumpy and down I had become – I need to do something which affirms me as an independent, professional person as well as a mum, step-mum and wife. I love all of my roles and I need all of my roles. If that makes me selfish so be it.
Having made such a decision, is it right for me to moan about childcare costs? Probably not, I guess.
By working, my children have more opportunities to do things....
I consider myself very lucky to have had a wonderful childminder for 12 years, who is a friend and a third parent to all of my children. It’s not cheap, especially in school holidays, coming in at round £60 a day.
I remember when I had two pre-school children at the minder’s – it made little financial sense to work at all. After fees plus travel, I was making about £10 a day. But my mental health was extremely good, I felt better in myself and I knew it was a medium term cost until the oldest started school.
However, I had a reasonably paid staff job with benefits at the time. I’m now self-employed and my income is not set in stone – but I’ve still made the decision three years ago to keep on my childminder for three days a week at least. I did not want to use redundancy as a reason not to work – I’ve not regretted this decision.
I recognise however that for people who work in lower paid professions eg. retail, a decision like this is much harder. I have a friend who is a single parent working for a national retail company – she earns about £850 a month. She has no choice but to pay for childcare as she’s the breadwinner in the family. But the childcare is a huge drain. She would actually be better off staying at home and living on benefits – I have to question whether that our society should ever allow that to be the situation.
My friend doesn’t want to stay at home. She has an eye to the future. In a few years’ time, her youngest child will be an adult and she’s anxious to have her foot in the workplace. She doesn’t want to be 50, with no experience and trying to find work then to make ends meet.
And where are children in this? My children are happy, that’s where they are. They have another adult they can talk to, confide in and trust. They have a range of friends of different ages and backgrounds. They are well socialised and have had no problem in fitting in at school because they’ve made friends from a very early age. They understand fully the concept of different homes, different adults, different rules.
I think back to my own childhood. My mum did not work, my dad wouldn’t allow it. Her day was structured around housework, food and children. She spent a good part of 20 years being bored. Rows at home were always around money. I didn’t go to toddler groups, play groups or anything like that. My parents had no car and little money so apart from an annual caravan holiday for a week, we went nowhere beyond our street and nearby countryside.
I knew much love and happiness as a child, don’t get me wrong. I always knew I was loved and cherished and for that I’m eternally grateful. But I also knew boredom, knew disappointment when I couldn’t do things through a complete lack of cash. These things do have an effect and help inform future choices. I knew from the age of 18 that I would work and offer my children more opportunity. I hate not contributing to the family pot.
Childcare costs are an issue – but for many women, it’s not just about the money.
The untimely death of footballer and Wales football manager Gary Speed has made me reflect over the last few days. How much do we really know about those around us? What is it like to face such a tragedy in a family?
I didn’t know Gary Speed, though I knew of him. I’m not a huge football fan and I’ve absolutely no idea why he took his own life. I suspect we’ll find out in the fullness of time as there will be an inquest. But we may never truly know.
However I do know a bit about depression (if that even had anything to do with his passing) and I also know, all too well about the impact of losing someone so unexpectedly and far too young.
So for me, this whole situation is about his family – his wife and children, his parents, brothers, sisters etc – my heart goes out to them. The journey they’ve been forced to take is long, it’s painful and it eats at the very soul.
Earlier this year, my brother in law, aged 49, went to the gym, collapsed and died. I’ve written about this before on this site and on FB. Even now, I cannot believe that it’s true. Seeing it in black and white doesn’t make it easier to bear. I also know that the impact it has had on my family will never diminish. We are all deeply wounded.
For my sister, his widow, he went to do an activity that he’d always done and enjoyed and which, it turns out, he should not have taken part in. She didn’t make it to the hospital in time to say goodbye. The next time she saw him, he was dead.
For his three children, their daddy went out and never came home. It’s a reality that they cannot understand, although they can speak the words, they cannot make sense of it.
How much worse must that be if someone has chosen to die?
Gary Speed's family face an uphill struggle to deal with his death...
On the face of it, this man seemed to have everything – talent, success, money, happy family.
But life has taught me that such things may hide many cracks. Being successful in life, or talented, does not give a monopoly on happiness. Depression or suicidal impulses can overtake anyone whatever their personal situation. They might know that they’ve got things good – but their mental health might be dreadful. Death might be an escape from turmoil in their own minds. Something they just can’t rid themselves of, no matter how hard they try.
I’ve made films about mental health issues and you soon come to realise that the state of someone’s mental health can be separate from their seeming success in life. Equally being successful, having confidence, being respected can help someone’s mental health if they come from a low place. But there are no guarantees when your mental health is fragile.
So for me – it’s not so much about the why? It’s about reaching out to his family and saying ‘I don’t know you, you don’t know me but I do know something of what you are enduring and it matters…’