A report has been published today, called These are our children, on how to provide the best care, support and treatment for children with the most complex needs. This includes behaviour that challenges, mental health problems, learning disabilities and/or autism.

It was requested by the Government and written by Dame Christine Lenehan, Director of the Council for Disabled Children. She makes 11 recommendations on how the system can be made to work better for the small number of children in across England who have significant needs.

These children too often end up ‘institutionalised’ in residential or inpatient mental health settings far from their families and communities, where their needs are not understood and met, and aspirations for them are low. 

We welcome these recommendations, and her emphasis that children with severe behavioural issues and complex mental health issues are everyone’s responsibility. Although residential placements can be a positive choice for some children, they should not be used as a place of last resort for children whose needs are not being met.  

One of the report’s recommendations is that there should be a review into the experiences and outcomes of children and young people in residential special schools and colleges. This review has begun, led by Dame Christine Lenehan, and we look forward to contributing to it. It will look at which children and young people go to residential special schools, why they are placed there, what good quality support looks like for these children, and how schools and colleges are supported to meet their needs.

Today’s report has also suggested another review looking at the reasons why young adults end up in inpatient mental health care, and what can be done to prevent that for future generations. 

Sarah Lambert, Head of Policy at The National Autistic Society, said:  

The findings of this report will be deeply concerning for families.  It’s clear from our conversations with parents and carers of children on the autism spectrum with very complex needs that there’s often not appropriate mental health support near where they live. Unfortunately, this means that far too many children have to travel long distances, or are admitted to hospitals far from their families, to get the specialist support they need.  

We welcome the report’s recommendation that the Government and NHS England look at why young autistic adults find themselves in inpatient mental health care. This could help stop under-18s facing inappropriate admissions in the future.

"As the report says, giving equal importance to mental and physical health is vital. The Government’s Mandate to NHS England recognises autistic people face unacceptable health inequality and that must be addressed. Implementing this report’s recommendations would help achieve this.

Read the full report