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2 Sep 2014

Call for MPs to investigate ‘confusing landscape’ in emergency provision for children in mental health crisis

Nearly three quarters of Mental Health Trusts in England do not provide a specialised place of safety for children facing a crisis in mental health, figures obtained by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today (Tuesday 2 September).

Under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983, anyone who appears to be mentally disturbed in a public place can be detained to a “place of safety” to be properly assessed. Information provided by the trusts to the Howard League indicated that almost 1,000 children in two years were accommodated under section 136, many in police stations or adult hospital wards.

Following concerns about the use of police cells as places of safety for children, the Howard League asked the 52 mental health trusts in England to detail what provision and accommodation was specifically made for children accommodated under section 136. Overall, the response from the trusts revealed a confusing landscape of services, with a disturbing lack of knowledge about the responsibility of individual trusts and the availability of suitable care for these children.

The sketchy information available indicated that more than half of the children were girls and many were younger teenagers including two 11-year-olds.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Any parent of a child who is found in public in a state of mental distress would hope that the authorities had a systematic way of offering specialist provision for a highly vulnerable young person. Yet the information we have uncovered from Mental Health Trusts suggests that the Trusts themselves are unable to provide a clear picture of how children in crisis across the country are safely accommodated. In particular, we are concerned that at least one in ten of these children – and possibly many more, given the gaps in information – are being taken to police cells, rather than specialist facilities with dedicated paediatric care.

“Whilst mental health emergencies may involve police officers as first responders, children facing mental health crisis should not be taken to or assessed in a police cell. Contact with the police should trigger an immediate response from mental health professionals and yet it appears that this is all too often not the case. Given the poor quality of information from the Mental Health Trusts on this important matter, we call on the MPs of the cross-party Health Select Committee to investigate the provisions available for children from each Mental Health Trust.”

Information from the Mental Health Trusts

The Howard League approached all the mental health trusts and four failed to respond, with another four refusing to provide a full breakdown of age and gender because they claimed the Data Protection Act applied.  Three trusts gave initial figures but refused to go into detail about where the children were accommodated.

Provisions specifically made for children under s136 in 2012 and 2013

Provisions specifically made for children*
Number of children accommodated under s136 958
Number of trusts providing specific children’s place of safety 8
Number of trusts that do not provide a specialised place of safety for children 37
Number of trusts that do not provide any s136 accommodation whatsoever 4
Gender – number accommodated
Number of females accommodated 446
Number of males accommodated 371
Gender not known 60
Total ** 877
Age – number accommodated
11 years old accommodated 2
12 years old accommodated 6
13 years old accommodated 26
14 years old accommodated 44
15 years old accommodated 92
16 years old accommodated 239
17 years old accommodated 338
Not known 8
Total ** 755

Where did the Mental Health Trust accommodate children?

Where were children accommodated
Sent home 46
Out of trust hospital 4
Foster care 4
Mental health unit 225
Acute hospital place of safety 135
Tier 4 mental health unit 12
Adult admission ward 38
Referred to CAMHS 3
Private bed 7
Adults of working age bed 5
Discharged 13
Children’s Services 6
CAMHS Team 36
Discharged to GP 2
Inpatient care 1
Paediatrics A&E 6
Discharged with follow up 18
Not admitted but open to community health service 6
Assessed and admitted informally 1
Assessed and discharged from 136 to supervision of parents 2
Assessed and discharged from 136 2
CAMHS unit 8
Other mental health follow up 2
Police cell 109
Acute hospital place of safety 81
The priory 1
Transfers 18
Formally admitted 2
Informally admitted 1
Different services 1
Advised to see child psychology services at school 1
Referred back to host area 1
Referred to youth services 7
Referred to Healthy Minds 1
Referred to Psychology services 1
Not known 14
Total * 820

*Some trusts did not provide this information and therefore the data is incomplete

**Some trusts provided incomplete data, for example:

  • did not provide age and gender breakdown as information exempt from disclosure under section 40 of Data Protection Act
  • combined age brackets so not able to breakdown statistics.

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the UK. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  2. Figures were obtained from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the 54 Mental Health Trusts in England.  The request asked for the following:

    What provision and accommodation is specifically made for children under 18 years old in your area who the police identify are ‘in need of a place of safety’ under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983?

    1. How many children aged 10 to and including 17 did you accommodate under Section 136 in a) 2012 and b) 2013

    2. If possible, please break the figures down by gender (e.g. Male – 30 accommodated; Female – 20 accommodated)

    3. If possible, please break the figures down by age (e.g. 17 years old – 50 accommodated, 16 years old – 45 accommodated; 15 years old – 10 accommodated etc.)

    4. Where did these children go (e.g. police cell – 3 children accommodated; mental health unit – 10 children accommodated; out of trust area – 4 children accommodated; etc.)

  3. The Howard League launched the Programme to Reduce Child Arrests in 2013 to encourage and support police service to reduce their child arrests. In October 2013, the charity published research showing that almost 800 boys and girls were held overnight in cells every week. Anecdotal evidence from the police indicated that it is likely that some of these children detained overnight in police cells were there because the cell was designated as a place of safety under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983.


Rob Preece
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