Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 9 October 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs
Youth Mental Health: Discussion (Resumed)
There are hardly any questions left to ask at this stage. Many of the questions I had lined up have been asked. I will pose them in any event and our guests can shorten their replies or indicate that they have already answered. First, I acknowledge the presence of Ms Kate Mitchell. She was in Roscommon at a seminar I ran and she was excellent. She was extremely impressive and had a good grasp of the situation. Everybody who attended the seminar was highly impressed by her commitment and knowledge. It was great to have her with us and I thank her.
I will turn briefly to the issue of care. It is amazing that this country has very poor statistics in the context of young people who have been taken into care, which is very sad and traumatic. We all know people who have been taken into care. Statistics in England show that over 45%, perhaps up to 50%, of children taken into care go on to develop mental health issues. There are approximately 6,500 children in care in this country at present. There is one thing that greatly upsets me. Obviously, many children are taken into care for good reasons, such as their safety or welfare. It is not a criminality situation, yet young people who have been in care are over-represented in our criminal justice system. Does any witness wish to comment on that? I find it quite disturbing.
I do not doubt the goodwill of everybody in this room to make things better and to help people in extraordinary situations. It is good that we are all talking about this more. However, I often get the sense that we appear to always be lagging behind other countries. We have so many reports and so much conversation. I have been a Member of the House since 2016 and I have heard plenty of talk about mental health and what we can do but, with no disrespect to anybody here, there is a lack of real action. One thing that is emerging from this meeting is the need to get back into schools, particularly in the context of dealing with schoolchildren at primary level. We always say that we must move away from the past. We have quite a shameful history in caring for children, but in the past, and it was not today or yesterday that I was in primary school, there were always road safety programmes, civics programmes, etc. It is good for young people to discuss climate change - and we have to listen to what they are saying - but surely there should be a huge focus for young people on the damage caused by alcohol and drugs, which are in every corner of society. They are as prevalent in the rural areas of Roscommon as they are in any part of the cities of Dublin, Cork or Galway.
Why can we not movethings on and make progress? It may be said back to me that I am a legislator now and that I need to do it but I need to put that question out there. We seem to be always talking about the issue, having reports prepared, and we are still very slow to move on.
I come from a county where on mental health, in three years, 2012, 2013 and 2014, €17.5 million was returned by the HSE, unused, where we had people in desperate situations. We have had situations where people have died in our hospitals because of incidents. This is a fact, yet this money was returned. Whose fault was that? Why did it happen? When one considers what families and communities have gone through in losing loved ones, whether they were young, parents or old, this does not matter. The family effect is the same. To think that the money was granted and not used. Why is that happening and why can things not be moved on?
I have a quotation from the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who said recently on mental health and about those who left care homes: "We will make changes as we go along rather than simply wait until the review makes its recommendations." That is what we need to adopt in this country. Can I have a quick comment from the panel on this and I accept that some of this may have been answered before?