The most vulnerable sector in our society is, of course, our children. It is our duty as parents, teachers and carers to ensure that the welfare of these children, both physical and psychological, is safeguarded, protected and supported.
Within this sector there is an even more vulnerable cohort – children who are suffering with mental health difficulties. Children with developmental and psychological difficulties have to face a myriad of obstacles before they receive help. Their parents, many of whom are frozen in fear, usually find themselves helpless, not knowing where to turn. Initially, difficulties facing parents are long waiting lists, appointments that may take months or in some cases over a year to happen. Just imagine, a child with an eating disorder, or a child who self-harms, and especially a child who has suicidal ideation – what happens to them on that waiting list?
Consider the parents who, on a Friday evening, discovers that their child is in great distress. Where do they go? The only place they can go is to the Emergency Department of their local hospital. Waiting times are renowned for long delays, in an area where there are people with injuries, who are intoxicated and some who are very sick, are all waiting together – along with a child who is frightened and bewildered. Many times, because there is no Child Psychiatric Consultant available, the child may be seen by an Adult Psychiatric doctor, who inevitably have to admit the child into an adult ward because there is nowhere else for them to go.
How, as a country, have we allowed this practice to continue? We are flying against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, even our own Mental Health Commission stated that following its findings on this practice, that it would be phased out. That was in 2006. Five years later, the Programme for Government made a commitment to end this process. But nothing has changed.
An Taoiseach once said that Ireland is a great place in which to grow old.
It is Senator Joan Freeman’s vision that Ireland is a place for our children to grow in.