Mental health care described as 'insufficient for abused children'

Nearly all health professionals believe there are not enough mental health services for children who have suffered sexual abuse, an NSPCC survey has revealed.

The NSPCC surveyed 1,256 people in the UK, including psychological practitioners, teachers, GPs and social workers, and 96 per cent said there was insufficient mental health provision for children and young people.

Just over half blamed waiting lists, and 78 per cent said that getting access to help had become more difficult in the last five years. Despite the promised extra £1.4bn from the government, there are concerns that services are not reaching those who most need it, like those who have been abused.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said the situation "shames the nation" and called for better access to therapy. The charity says abused children often have to develop chronic mental health problems, be suicidal or self-harming before services become available to them. It also found that many children have to wait more than five months to get the specialist support they need. One of the issues highlighted was the lack of early intervention. Other concerns included lack of range of services and access to specialist or appropriate interventions.

An ACP spokesperson and senior clinician agreed: "Children and young people who have been abused need considerable support from a consistent and safe professional - they will struggle to  talk about their experiences and feelings otherwise. In my experience, telling the story, is only the beginning.  In order to make sense of abuse and recover from the pain, confusion and trauma of it, children need to be supported over a long period of time. A secure, relationship focused intervention at the right time and not rushed, can help to restore a child’s belief that they can be safe, helped by others but that they can learn to build secure and trusting relationships. Unfortunately, it is often the highly skilled and experienced members of the mental health workforce, who know how to engage hard to reach children and young people, who are having their posts cut. Without this timely intervention available, we will continue to see many children close down, become depressed, punish themselves or enter into abusive relationships in the future. 

"The right person to talk to at the right time is crucial for emotional and psychological health. If we fail children and young people when they have found the courage to ask for help, we risk re-inforcing negative beliefs about themselves, that their needs and experiences aren’t worth serious attention and intervention."
Invest in childhood
Many professionals working in mental health are acutely aware of the need for more resources at the early stages when a child first discloses abuse and asks for help, but until early intervention and access to a wider range of therapies are available, children will continue to suffer and miss out on the childhood they deserve.  Join the ACP with their invest in childhood campaign. Follow us on Twitter @ACPbulletin - #investchildhood.
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