'Bug in ear' aids children's mental health

Parents of disruptive children should be trained to cope with them by hidden experts advising through earpieces, says a parliamentary committee.

In a new report on children's mental health services, the Commons Health Committee says the Government should put money into schemes pioneered in America where parents receive one-to-one instruction through a "bug in the ear" while with their children.

Although expensive, initiatives such as Parent Management Training are said to have been more successful in reducing conduct disorders than conventional therapy.

Increasing numbers of children are thought to have psychiatric or psychological problems, prompting the committee's investigation. The MPs found "compelling" evidence of a growth in such problems.

Schools, meanwhile, are permanently excluding around 11,000 pupils a year, according to the latest government statistics.

But the Select Committee believes that the official services have little chance of coping. "Our witnesses agreed that the current provision of child and adolescent mental health services is inadequate both in quality and in geographical spread," says the report.

There is a serious lack of national data on children's mental health, a position it describes as "highly unsatisfactory". The committee was unhappy that there is still no working definition of a mental health problem, despite longstanding government promises to produce one. "There is little point in setting targets if it is impossible to measure progress towards meeting them," say the MPs.

Their report criticises the treatment of excluded pupils, many of whom have serious disorders. "The current arrangements, under which no effective alternative education is arranged for excluded children, are clearly unsatisfactory and may well contribute not to reducing but to perpetuating patterns of conduct disorder and anti-social behaviour."

The MPs recommend that a new government should mount a joint healtheducation investigation into school indiscipline and exclusion.

It backs the establishment of new posts for "primary and adolescent mental health workers" to support schools and GPs in identifying problems at an early stage.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services is available price Pounds 9.70 from the Stationery Office, The Publications Centre, PO Box 276, London SW8 5DT, tel 0171 873 0011

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