Whilst reading the news this morning, I was dismayed but, unfortunately, not surprised to read that there are still thousands of people with learning disabilities and autism still being held in mental health hospitals. The government had pledged to reduce these numbers but have missed their own targets in recent years.
This has meant that the reliance on inpatient care in mental health hospitals continues. A first hand report from a relative of a person currently being held, states, "It's not the correct placement for people with learning disabilities and autism. It makes them more anxious and can make them worse because they don't know when they're going to get out. There's no clear direction, they don't get much hope.” There are also reports of physical restraints and solitary confinement being used to moderate behaviour.
It is incredibly frustrating to read about this when I am currently challenging numerous local authority (LA) decisions for post 16 and post 19 students in respect of their educational placements. There are specialist colleges for students with learning disabilities and autism that offer residential placements, where they are taught life skills to enable them to become as independent as possible. These placements have on-site therapists and specialist teachers who teach students throughout the day, and then allow them to implement their new skills in the evening within the residential setting, so that they can embed them into their everyday lives. These young people want to attend these settings to achieve their full potential, so they are requesting local authority funding for placements. However, funding from the LAs is not forthcoming, so they are not allocating placements to students. Instead, they are offering mainstream placements that cannot meet the needs of the young person as they do not have the specialist expertise, and social care packages which result in young people attending a variety of different placements in a week, offering no consistency and varying peer groups in respect of age range. And in many other cases the LAs are yet to make any decision on placement, despite now being less than three months away from the start of another academic year.
If an investment is made earlier in the life of a young person with disabilities, they will have the opportunity to acquire the skills and coping strategies they need to avoid having to be held in a mental health hospital. The government is investing monies to reduce the numbers of those being held, surely monies must also be spent more wisely within a young person’s education to avoid situations such as these occurring in the first place?
"People with autism and those living with learning disabilities deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and have the best possible quality of life in their community. "We are determined to continue to reduce the number of people with learning disabilities and autistic people in mental health hospitals and the reliance on inpatient care by investing in community services and supporting discharges with £62m."