The mental health system is failing some children, experts warn. Print
Written by CHLOE SALTAU   

13 August 2001
From The Melbourne Age

 Some depressed children at serious risk of suicide are not being psychiatrically treated because of difficulties gaining consent in the mental health system, says a national welfare body.

The National Network of Adult and Adolescent Children who have a Mentally ill Parent has written to the Victorian Government about the case of a 15-year-0ld girl whose parents suffer from severe psychiatric disorders.

The girl who lives with another family, is so depressed she is "often found curled up in a foetal position" and is almost incapable of communicating. But her mentally ill parents have refused to give consent for her to get treatment.

The networks' convenor, Paul Mckillop said the case was not isolated. The group wrote to Labor's Human Services parliamentary secretary, Matt Viney, about the girl.

Its Letter said. "This girl's depression is being left untreated because a government agency is not prepared to act without the consent of the girl's parents, who both have a questionable competency to give informed consent on their own behalf, let alone on behalf of some one else. It is clear that the child is endangered."

Dr George Halasz a specialist in child psychiatry at Monash Medical Centre's Department of Psychological Medicine, said the well-documented, non-genetic transmission of mental illnesses from parents to their children often left parents in a state of guilt-ridden denial when their children became unwell.

A shift in attitudes was needed to acknowledge a child racked with mental illness was in a similar position to a child in desperate need of a blood transfusion, he said. It was crucial that the government could override parents who refuse to allow their children to be treated. The Department of Human services said voluntary support network or the girl's GP should notify child protection authorities if they believed she was in danger of harming herself.

"This will allow the departments, if necessary, to assume guardianship of the girl and give permission for her to receive any treatment needed, or ask the children's court to order that she receive treatment, " department spokesman Alex Messina said.

Mr Mckillop said the girl feared she would be taken away from the family she has lived with since leaving her parents if child protection authorities were involved. Mr Messina said: "if children at risk of harm cannot live with their parents, protection workers routinely strive to place them with friends or extended family. The girl could stay with the current family who is caring for her, provided the family is suitable, if she cannot live at home."

A report commissioned by the federal Government earlier this year recommended that national guidelines be developed on appropriate responses to children with mentally ill parents.

In the above scenario it was not appropriate that child protection be involved. NNAAMI has written to the State Labor Government supporting that temporary Guardians and advocates be appointed for children in these circumstances so that urgent treatment can be facilitated appropriately. This request has support from quarters such as the Guardianship List /Civil & Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Childrens Court in Melbourne. The mental health branch vic has promised to assist these young people by looking into amending policies and calling for guardians to be made available via GL VCAT. However no action has been taken yet by the Mental Health Branch Vic or by the Victorian government yet.