Sam, 39, from Bromley, is a mother of two, and has been a user of Lewisham’s Parent Support Group for over a year. While waiting for her weekly counselling session, she talks anxiously about her 15-year-old daughter, who has run away from home for the fourth time.
Sam also has a son with Asperger’s syndrome and has fought hard to get him mental health support from the NHS, often with little success. After years of feeling disconnected from other children and moving school twice, Sam’s son finally received the support he needed at a school that specialises in teaching autistic pupils.
Help finally arrived, but the experience left Sam drained from the constant worry about her son’s welfare. She now faces the next struggle of finding help for her younger daughter, who has also had to move schools, this time due to her aggressive, temperamental behaviour.
The rising cuts to children’s mental health services have left many parents having to deal with the consequences of being unable to find appropriate medical support for their children.
In April last year, it emerged that 6,000 mental healthcare jobs were to be taken out of the NHS due to austerity cuts; trade union Unite said this would mean a reduction of nearly 25 per cent of the entire service.
Many frontline workers have since been lost, resulting in children with mental health issues waiting longer for treatment or receiving no help at all, at a time when 1 in 10 young people aged 5-15 suffer from a diagnosable mental health problem.
Maggie Palmer, a child mental health specialist at Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in Lewisham, which last year alone lost half a million and is expected to lose a further £90,000 this April, said: “As the economic crisis worsens we are seeing more people in need of services- at the moment it’s like opening a flood gate. Many children we would have seen in the past we now might not have the resources to help. And this is only the beginning.”
“Children especially should not have to wait for mental health services, they do not understand. When children’s mental health problems are not treated, the problem becomes much worse and it is left for the child’s family to deal with.” As the cuts continue, more and more parents are finding it difficult to support their children and themselves.
Over a year ago, Sam had to serve a prison sentence for being unable to make her daughter attend school; she says she finds her daughter unmanageable and sometimes abusive. “I have no influence over what she does. Her moods are constantly changing and at times she’s so aggressive I worry she’s mentally unstable.”
Her inability to control her daughter has left her feeling lost and her doctor has recently put her on her on anti-depressants to cope. “Its exhausting finding support for my child, everywhere there’s waiting lists. She is still my daughter and I want to help, but I need support to do that,” she tells me.
Britain’s biggest children’s mental health organisation, Young Minds, operates a parents support line which in recent months has had growing numbers of parents calling in. “The problem is set to get much worse,” said Daphne Joseph, the Parents Helpline Manager for Young Minds.
“There is little support at all now and more and more parents are left without services for their children and may not be equipped to provide the right support. The waiting list has always been an issue but we are now getting more calls than ever.”
Daphne offers advice and counselling to parents whose children self-harm, feel suicidal, or suffer depression: “If they’re unsupported as an individual it makes them unable to support their children. If your child has mental problems so do you.”
Daphne talked about one mother who recently called up suffering from depression, triggered by her suicidal 26-year-old daughter. The daughter began having problems when she was 15 and now struggles to support her own children. “We’ve seen how the welfare of children at all ages can effect parents. It’s really shocking.”
In addition to using the drop-in centre, Sam also receives one on one counselling sessions and attends the: ‘Dealing with challenging behaviour course’, which offers guidance and advice on parenting. Both services are provided by the organisation’s trained councillors.
“Parents have a voice here. I was crying out for help and I was just referred from place to place. It’s coming here and hearing the other experiences of parents that keep me going.”
Ever-growing waiting lists and reductions in staff mean that services such as Parents Support Group now play a vital role in bringing up the next generation.
Anne Williams, who runs PSG, says: “Although the problems might not go away, their ability to deal with those problems is stronger. Parenting is hard and if a child has issues of any kind it is isolating and distressing for anyone. The drop-in means people can come to us immediately. It really does break down isolation, builds up self-esteem and empowers parents.
“With today’s difficulties our group is a sanctuary for parents and this has direct effects with how they support their children. People who come to us say we kept their family together.”
Sam’s daughter now sits on CAMHS growing waiting list and it is uncertain when she will receive support. Although her daughter is still difficult, she feels she is in a much stronger position to cope; like for so many parents, the Parents Support Group has become her lifeline.