Vulnerable children locked up and severely damaged by the state, warns the former senior family judge mental health

Vulnerable children with complex needs are being locked up in unregulated places and being severely harmed by the state while their parents are driven to despair, according to the former family judge for England and Wales. Sir James Munby calls the failure to provide safe and therapeutic homes a shocking moral failure.

According to the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, the number of applications for detention orders for children suffering from psychological and behavioral difficulties reached 1,368 last year.

Writing inwatchdogMunby, the immediate past president of the high court’s family separation division, said the growing applications for the draconian measure were a sad reflection of the catastrophic failure to support children whose complex needs often lead to self-harm and attempts for suicide.

Criticizing the government, which he said has failed to address the severe lack of adequate provision, Munby referred to dozens upon dozens of judgments voicing the concerns of his fellow judges that have been published since His Blood on Our Hands settled on a 17-year-old girl named X, who made national headlines in 2017.

Reporting by news site Tortoise Media last year showed that any help X received came too late to save him, Munby said. Barely in her 20s, X not a criminal was eventually incarcerated in a high-security mental health hospital, where she remains.

Seven years after my judgment in her case, the situation for other children around the country is even worse than I dared to fear, he warned.

In 2021, the Supreme Court called the plight of these children a scandal that contains all the ingredients of a tragedy. Years of persistent efforts by journalists to publicize the escalating crisis mean no one can pretend the scandal is hidden, Munby writes, citing the latest shocking investigation by the BBC, which interviewed children about their harrowing experiences. of forced imprisonment in inappropriate places. by order of deprivation of liberty.

of watchdog recently reported on hundreds of highly vulnerable children being sent to unregulated homes due to a chronic shortage of local authority safe units.

Meanwhile, the government has done nothing of substance or value to help these most vulnerable children, says Munby.

His successor, Sir Andrew McFarlane, tried last year to engage the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan, in the plight of another suicidal teenage girl for whom no safe, therapeutic place could be found.

In a highly unusual move, McFarlane called on Keegan to come to court. After rejecting her request to be excused, his published judgment expressed his genuine surprise and real concern that the matter does not appear to have been dealt with in any meaningful way in parliament, in government or in wider debate. wide public.

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McFarlane said: I noticed, it was shocking to see that the Department of Education seemed to just wash their hands of this chronic problem.

Munby warns that the many published judgments about disturbed and damaged children detained incommunicado paint a picture of a system unable to cope with the growing number of young people with emotional and behavioral difficulties, almost always arising from trauma or neglect. in childhood.

When a system routinely locks up vulnerable children in grossly inappropriate settings, the country faces another shocking moral failure, a moral failure by the state and society, he says, before asking whether any party would address the issue during the campaign. election.

This article was amended on 9 June 2024. Due to an editing error, an earlier version stated that Gillian Keegan refused to go to court when ordered to by Sir Andrew McFarlane. In fact she asked to be excused and when this was refused she sent a representative. Also, McFarlane was the former Chief Family Judge for England and Wales, not just England.

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