“Many vulnerable children in England with learning disabilities are stuck in mental health hospitals for too long”

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, is today publishing a new report, ‘Far less than they deserve: Children with learning disabilities or autism living in mental health hospitals. The report shows how too many children in England are being admitted to secure hospitals unnecessarily – in some cases are spending months and years of their childhood in institutions when they should be in their community. It warns that the current system of support for those with learning disabilities or autism is letting down some of the most vulnerable children in the country.

The report also finds shocking evidence of poor and restrictive practices and sedation, with some children telling the Children’s Commissioner of how their stay in mental health hospital has been traumatic, and parents too often left feeling powerless to do anything to intervene.

Some of the main findings in today’s report include:

  • The numbers of these children identified in mental health hospitals is increasing – despite government targets to slash the numbers of people with a learning disability or autism in hospital. 250 children with a learning disability or autism were identified in a mental health hospital in England in February 2019, compared to 110 in March 2015. Nearly three quarters of these children have autism but not a learning disability. Around 1 in 7 have a learning disability only, and another 1 in 7 have both.
  • Children are being detained in hospital for too long. Data provided to the Children’s Commissioner’s Office by NHS Digital shows that on average, children with autism and/or a learning disability had spent 6 months (184 days) living in their current hospital, and 8 months (240 days) in inpatient care in total. Around 1 in 7 children had spent at least a year in their current hospital spell with their current provider; any could have returned home if support was available.
  • Children are being placed far from their family and home, making it very difficult for families to visit.  Data provided to the Children’s Commissioner’s Office reveals that 95 children were staying in a ward known to be more than 50 km (31 miles) from home. This accounts for roughly half of the children for whom the distance from home was actually recorded.  55 children (nearly a third) were in a ward known to be more than 100km (62 miles) from home.

Read the report