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President expresses shame and embarrassment that state can't do more for suicidal 17-year old

Bed found which will best meet X's needs

The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has expressed "shame, as a human being, as a citizen and as an agent of the State, [and] embarrassment as President of the Family Division, and, as such, Head of Family Justice, that I can do no more for" a 17-year-old girl who, at the date of judgment (3 August 2017), was due to be released from youth custody in 11 days' time.

The girl, named as X in the judgment in X (A Child) (No 3) [2017] EWHC 2036 (Fam), has been detained in a secure unit. On a large number of occasions while in thAe secure unit, she has made determined attempts to commit suicide. Following a visit to see X on 8 June 2017, X's guardian recorded that she had been told by the staff at ZX that the entire staff group's opinion was that X's goal is not to go to her home town but to kill herself and that X's intention to kill herself had 'intensified'.

During the six months in which X has been resident in the secure unit restraints have had to be used on 117 occasions and there have been 102 "significant" acts of self-harm (5 during the period from 20-27 July 2017), 45 assaults and 25 attempted assaults on adults, and 16 incidents of "significant" damage to property.

The President concluded that that X's need for placement in a suitable, secure clinical/hospital setting is now overwhelming. The local authority's view is that X's needs can only properly be met in an appropriate clinical/hospital setting.

The President said that "what X needs as a matter of desperate urgency – this is clearly the best option for her – is placement in a Tier 4 (adolescent) low secure unit for some 18-24 months. No such placement was available anywhere in this country when the hearing before me started on Monday 31 July 2017 or when the hearing concluded on Tuesday 1 August 2017, and no such placement is available as I hand down judgment on Thursday 3 August 2017. The only identified placement … has a 6-month waiting list for beds. Indeed, as of today, Thursday 3 August 2017, no placement of any kind is available for X when she leaves [the secure unit], as she has to no later than 3pm on Monday 14 August 2017."

The President noted:

"If this is the best we can do for X, and others in similar crisis, what right do we, what right do the system, our society and indeed the State itself, have to call ourselves civilised? The honest answer to this question should make us all feel ashamed."

He added:

"If, when in eleven days' time she is released from [the secure unit], we, the system, society, the State, are unable to provide X with the supportive and safe placement she so desperately needs, and if, in consequence, she is enabled to make another attempt on her life, then I can only say, with bleak emphasis: we will have blood on our hands."

Sir James directed that copies of this judgment be sent immediately to the Chief Executive Officer of NHS England, to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, to the Secretary of State for Health, to the Secretary of State for Education and to the Secretary of State for Justice.

Following the handing down of the judgment, it has been reported that a bed "in a safe and appropriate care setting which will best meet her needs" has been found by the NHS.

For the judgment, click here. For a report in The Guardian, click here.

4/8/17 (updated 7/8/17)