Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children

Child and Infant Mental Health: Discussion

9:30 am

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I apologise but I had to go to the Chamber to speak on a particular matter. I read Professor Nugent's submission at length last night and in all of my time as a member of this committee, I have not read a more interesting or moving presentation. It highlighted our responsibilities as citizens but, more particularly, as parents and grandparents to children. I was reminded of my own mother, who was my mentor in many ways. She always said that children are like sponges and that we must be very careful about what we say in front of them because they absorb so much. She also had a very common sense approach to many issues, similar to that of Professor Nugent, including how we look at children's lives, the environment in which they live and how they are reared.

I took part in a parenting course in the school attended by my children not because I felt that I was a bad parent but because I hoped it would enable me to work with other parents and learn about how they dealt with difficulties. Being a mother for the first time can be very stressful. A lot of issues arise, some medical and some more basic like having a baby who is very cross at night and so forth. It was wonderful for me to be able to avail of that parenting course. However, often parenting courses do not reach the people who really need them. Some parents started the course I was on but only stayed for a week or two before dropping out. In my opinion, they were the parents who needed it most. I am not saying I was perfect but there were others who definitely needed it more than me.

The professor spoke about stability, which is so important. A gynaecologist once told me that babies in the womb can hear and feel. They can also feel anger and aggression. Babies in the womb are not isolated from what is happening in the world but are very much part of it. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world or in perfect communities. A lot of children do not live in perfect families, which is what this document is all about. As public representatives, we must deal with that.

I firmly believe that sometimes the only way to deal with people who cannot be the parents they need to be is to deal with them first. A lot of people who have babies are not prepared for parenthood. That can be as a result of their own family background. When I was pregnant I knew that I could reach out to my best friend, parents, husband and extended family but some women do not have that support and that is where early childhood problems start. We must focus on this if we want to deal with many of the issues raised by Ms Mitchell.

Ms Mitchell said that the figure of 870 clients, or children, was reduced to 241. Does that figure represent children caught up in the mental health system for more than 12 months? Ms Mitchell also referred to an inability to keep staff or to get staff to come on board. Will she outline the reasons for this, other than emigration? I know of a case involving a beautiful young man who has an intellectual disability. He has Asperger's syndrome, autism and is non-verbal with violent tendencies. His parents are at their wits' end. They are jumping through hoops and I am jumping with them, to be honest. Sadly, the only thing that has been offered is a long-term care placement in Monaghan but his family lives in Dublin. His mother does not drive and would have to travel by bus to visit him. His father is self-employed and cannot take much time off.

We need to take children's mental health seriously, from the womb right through to secondary school, because if we do not do so, the consequences can be dire. Deputy Dan Neville has been a strong advocate for suicide prevention. If we do not address mental illness in children and adolescents, our suicide figures will not decrease but will increase. The Government and all public representatives must ensure that the next generation of children in this country do not end up in the current mental health system. I give the witnesses a commitment that I will do anything that I can to highlight these issues within my own party.


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