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Children with mentally ill parents go 'unnoticed'

Barnardo's says families need more support

OnMedica Staff

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Children with mentally ill parents need far more support, says the children’s charity Barnardo’s.

In a report the charity says children often go "unnoticed" and many find visits to psychiatric hospitals traumatic.

The charity is calling for specialist services to be set up and proposes that every family with a mentally ill parent should have access to a named professional who can provide information and act on the family’s behalf.

Studies suggest that a fifth of all women referred for psychiatric treatment have a child under the age of five. In compiling its report, Barnardo’s interviewed children of all ages, and their parents, to find out more about their experiences.

Barnardo's chief executive, Martin Narey, said: "Our experience is that, at times, children go unnoticed when a parent needs mental health treatment. Promoting collaborative work between adults' mental health services and children's services is critical."

The report says mental health trusts should make their inpatient visiting facilities more child-friendly, and urges schools to be given the means to support children. 

The charity's lead researcher on mental health, Alison Webster, said: "Children rely on their parents for emotional and practical support but when parents are affected by mental illness, their role can become a struggle.

"Our proposals would mean that the whole family would get more of the support they need."

The government’s "Children’s Plan", published in England in 2007, does acknowledge the need to deliver health services with the effects on the entire family in mind.

Commenting on Barnardo’s report, Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, described mental health as a Cinderella service.

"We need to direct more attention to mental health services ensuring speedy access with advice and support is offered not just to the patients but their families and carers as well," he said.

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