The Covid-19 pandemic has had a serious impact on the mental health of children and parents, according to the first report of 2020 published today by the Child Care Law Reporting project.
The CCLRP has published 46 further reports of cases heard in various courts in the first half of this year and illustrates how the coronavirus pandemic has caused further problems for already vulnerable children and families - many of whom were already facing mental health difficulties. According to the published reports there was a "disproportionate" number of cases where either the parent or the child suffers from mental illness.
The coronavirus pandemic caused difficulties for a number of families, from limiting face-to-face access with children who had been admitted into a care situation, to putting additional strain under families and causing some to relapse into alcoholism at a time when they were showing signs of progress.
In one case a girl whose weight was plummeting rapidly due to anorexia nervosa was in a psychiatric unit and the HSE was keen to move her into a secure residential placement with Covid-19 cited as one of the reasons. The coronavirus risk was also referred to in another case involving another young person who had also been admitted into a psychiatric unit.
Another issue to emerge during lockdown period was access, where face-to-face access between children in care and their parents was often discontinued, leading to disputes between the parents and the Child and Family Agency. The report notes that this was particularly distressing for parents and children where the child was in a psychiatric unit with other children and whose health was compromised, meaning they were particularly at risk from Covid-19.
Certain therapies and other services could not be delivered, or only with difficulty, hampering the recovery of some parents dealing with mental health or addiction issues.
In one District Court an order was made to detain a self-harming child in a psychiatric unit under the Mental Health Act following nine admissions to an emergency department and numerous self-harm attempts. However, there was concern that the child would be detained in a psychiatric setting for longer than was required. All parties involved were awaiting clarification on an onward residential placement as the HSE "want to get children out of psychiatric placement if they don’t need to be there" and the risk of Covid-19 was also a reason [or her to be moved if the girl did not need to be in the unit.
Another report outlines how the parents of a girl who had been admitted to a psychiatric unit because of a serious eating disorder were worried because no face-to-face contact was permitted in the unit during the Covid-19 outbreak. An earlier consultant psychiatrist’s report had warned that “the trajectory of weight loss was so rapid” and the court heard “if left to her own devices she would starve”. The HSE said that it was “particularly difficult as people there are exceptionally frail and immune-compromised.” The judge said: “It is not satisfactory for the parents but they are the standards affecting everyone.”
In another case an interim care order was granted when a mother’s alcohol abuse relapsed due to Covid-19. The court heard she began to feel isolated and was finding it difficult to cope and began drinking vodka.
The Director of the CCLRP, Dr Carol Coulter, said the issues underline the importance of all public bodies maintaining a focus on the rights and needs of children, adding: “In addition, the prevalence of mental health problems, which, along with cognitive disability and membership of an ethnic minority, is a feature of child protection proceedings, demonstrates the appropriateness of bringing several of these matters within the remit of the Department of Children.”