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'Derelict system': Parents demand better help for at-risk children


A group of concerned parents has launched a campaign and petition demanding better mental health services for South Australian children, saying suicidal youth are being turned away from the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

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The Parents for Change campaign was recently started by an Adelaide mother, who in April detailed to InDaily her struggle to get help for her suicidal teenage son.

InDaily has chosen not to name her to protect the identity of her son.

An online petition calling for more resources has so far attracted more than 4000 signatures.

“I believe that the hospital is risking children’s lives,” the mother told InDaily.

“It’s a derelict system.

“When a child is reaching out and saying ‘I’m considering taking my life’, we need that taken seriously.”

The mother said she started the group because since telling her story to InDaily she had spoken to more than a hundred other parents who had had similar problems in getting help for their at-risk children.

“This is not a few parents – I have spoken to parents all over Adelaide,” she said.

“We want to see that model of care for suicidal children changed.”

She believes the main problems are a shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists in South Australia and a lack of inpatient mental health beds for children.

The Parents for Change organisers have sent their demands to Women’s and Children’s Hospital chief executive Lindsey Gough and will meet later this month with hospital officials including interim chief operating officer Jane Jennings; community, primary and population health general manager Fiona Margrie and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services clinical director Dr Mohammed Usman.

“It’s an absolute disgrace it’s been left up to parents to organise a campaign for the services that are needed,” the mother said.

The group’s petition states: “South Australia’s mental health system is failing its young people.”

“The Mallee Ward at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital (WCH) is the only Child and Adolescent Mental Health Inpatient Service in South Australia, but with only 12 beds available it’s no surprise suicidal children are being turned away,” it says.

“Currently there is a state shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists. Waiting times for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are at a record high.

“Desperate parents and vulnerable children are being left with no other option but to seek urgent medical treatment in the Emergency Department at the WCH.

“Suicidal children are frequently refused admissions and sent home with nothing.

“Child and adolescent mental health disorders are expected to increase over the coming years.

“South Australian children experiencing a mental health crisis must have to access the Mallee Ward and ongoing psychiatry appointments through CAMHS.”

The petition is calling for:

  1. An increase in the number of paediatric inpatient mental health beds in the new WCH
  2. Mental health presentations in the emergency department to be individually assessed by a psychiatrist
  3. An increase in the number of child and adolescent psychiatrist in South Australia (public and private)
  4. Emergency mental health presentations at the WCH to be “put on par” with physical health treatment
  5. Children to be able to access ongoing psychiatry appointments through CAMHS
  6. A reduction in waiting times for CAMHS appointments
  7. Parents to be given a comprehensive care plan to keep their children safe and alive

In a statement, Health Minister Stephen Wade said “there is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant distress in the community, and our young people have not been immune to the impact”.

“The need to address the impact of the pandemic on young people was identified as a significant component of the COVID-19 Mental Health response which was launched less than two months after the first cases in South Australia in February 2020,” he said.

“At the same time, additional ongoing funding has been allocated in this year’s State Budget to address child and adolescent services described in the Mental Health Services Plan.

“Community mental health services were bolstered by an additional $34.5 million over four years in this year’s State Budget, including allocating more than $6.2 million to initiatives that will directly benefit children and adolescents.”

Wade said “the wellbeing of our young people is a key priority”.

In a statement, the Women’s and Children’s Health Network said it was “committed to delivering high quality care to our community and every child who presents to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital (WCH) will always receive the care and treatment they need”.

“The $15 million redeveloped Mallee Ward opened earlier this year, based on a statewide planning and clinical activity analysis that determined the required treatment spaces to ensure the ward can meet the needs of children and young people across the state,” a spokesperson said.

“The Women’s and Children’s Health Network (WCHN) has recently established a virtual triage service as an alternative to children presenting to the (paediatric emergency department) and introduced Rapid Assessment Consultation, Evaluation and Review (RACER) clinics to provide follow up for children and young people with mental health difficulties who present to the hospital.”

The spokesperson said the network had also introduced a range of new positions to improve quality of care for patients, including a GP liaison, social worker and mental health nursing coordinator.

“The recruitment process is also underway to hire additional staff, including further Child and Adolescent Advanced Trainees and a Consultant Psychiatrist for the RACER team,” the spokesperson said.

“The WCHN has a clear process for the delivery of care to children and young people experiencing mental health issues.

“South Australian families can rest assured safe and quality care is available to people with mental health needs and children, young people and their families are encouraged to seek help and support if they are experiencing mental health challenges.”

For support, people can contact:

Lifeline 13 11 14

Kids Helpline 1800 551 800 

CAMHS Connect 1300 222 647

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