Children With Mental Health Conditions Held In Police Cells

Lack Of Suitable Hospital Beds Led To Detention Of Over 200 Children Last Year


More than 200 children with mental health conditions were held in police cells last year because of a lack of suitable hospital beds, it has been revealed.

According to figures obtained by The Independent, the vast majority of children held by police – some as young as 12 – posed no threat to the public, but were suicidal or in danger of self-harming.

Some of the vulnerable under-18s held under the Mental Health Act were detained for over two days – Hampshire police held a 17-year-old girl for over 63 hours, while Nottinghamshire police held a 16-year-old girl for 52 hours.

A total of 27 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales were found to have held under-18s in custody under the act last year.

Police can detain children for up to 72 hours under section 136 of the Mental Health Act. The practice is intended as a last resort if the NHS fails to find a suitable safe place such as a hospital bed or psychiatric unit.

Experts have noted that in some cases the problem may be caused by a lack of NHS mental health beds; however, they have also highlighted the need for additional training for officers.

Majorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity SANE, said: "It is quite unacceptable that anyone suffering from a mental health condition, especially a young person, should treated as a criminal.

"Nothing could be more damaging to the mental health of a young person than to be left isolated, unprotected and feeling they have done wrong, when they are suffering from mental illness."

Expert Opinion
“These figures have highlighted some very significant concerns and it is vital that both the police and NHS carefully examine the findings to determine what can be done to address this issue.

“The inherent vulnerability of those with mental health conditions is inevitably increased when they are children. Placing children and young people experiencing mental health crises in police cells should be a matter of absolute last resort because of the added distress it very often causes. In certain cases this practice could breach the Equality Act, the Children Act and the Human Rights Act.

“There is a clear need to improve mental health services to reduce this happening, while in the interim officers should be given training and support to ensure they are properly prepared to provide quality care in such situations.”
Gus Silverman, Solicitor