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Sharp rise in acute medical beds occupied by children with nowhere else to go

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A third of all children’s acute hospital beds in parts of England are being occupied by vulnerable children who do not need acute medical care but have nowhere else to go, safeguarding experts have warned.

Doctors say they feel like very expensive “babysitters” for vulnerable children, many of whom are in care but whose placements have broken down because of their violent and self-harming behaviour. Others have severe neurodevelopmental or eating disorders and need specialist treatment not available on ordinary children’s wards, where they get “stuck”, sometimes for months at a time.

Paediatricians told the Guardian they have had to deal with vulnerable children who were not physically ill but displayed such challenging behaviour that they could not be looked after in children’s homes.

“It is estimated that roughly a third of acute hospital beds at the moment are full of these vulnerable young people, many who are subject to child protection plans, or they are already children in care, living in a residential placement that’s falling apart,” said Dr Emilia Wawrzkowicz, a paediatric consultant who is the assistant officer for child protection at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH).

Though many of these children are in extreme distress, they often have no diagnosable mental illness and do not qualify for a psychiatric “tier four” bed. 

“Some children have such extreme emotional and behavioural issues or are at risk of exploitation that they can’t get back to their residential placements or their foster parents. They can’t obviously go back to their homes, and we’ve got to keep them safe. So they sit in the hospital because there’s nowhere else to go. There are children sitting on our wards for months,” said Wawrzkowicz.

Charlotte Ramsden, president of the Association of Director of Children’s Services, warned that a failure to increase the suitable provision for traumatised children would lead to more child suicides and more children ending up in custody after harming others.

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Source: The Guardian, 13 September 2021

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