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C.O.P.E. Policy Pressure Group Strives To Better Safeguard Young Children From Prescribed Psychiatric Drugs

28 September 2018 | by Guest

In this guest post Dave Traxson, Chair of C.O.P.E. and Associate Member of the DECP Committee, outlines the aims and agenda of the group, which held is inaugural meeting in June 2018.

C.O.P.E is a group of child mental health professionals, which includes several members of the DECP/BPS amongst its active participants and officers, at least four of whom have been long standing committee members of the Division of Educational and Child Psychology, and another a recent President of the BPS:

  • Dave Traxson, Chair, COPE (Campaign against the Over-prescription of Psychiatric drugs in Education) and associate member of the DECP committee.
  • Dr Cynthia Pinto, Educational psychologist, secretary, COPE and associate member of the DECP committee.
  • Professor Peter Kinderman, President, British Psychological Society (2016-17), vice-chair C.O.P.E.
  • Vivian Hill, Course director, professional educational psychology training, UCL Institute of Education & Ex-chair of the Division of Educational and Child Psychology of the BPS
  • Dr Brian Apter, Ex-chair of the Division of Educational and Child Psychology of the BPS.

Other members include academics, representatives of educational and mental health professional bodies, campaigning journalists and politicians, and the group is sponsored by three MPs: Eleanor Smith, Thelma Walker and John McDonnell.

Our primary aim is to change public policy in key areas of child and adolescent mental health, and an attempt to initiate this change was made as part of the consultation process for the new NICE Guidelines.

The BPS requested that NICE should consider recommending a ban on medicating children with psycho-stimulants who are under the age of five years old.

As a member of that committee I ensured that this was actively debated, culminating in a compromise three-stage pathway being introduced to better safeguard very young children, prior to its publication in March 2018.

Our C.O.P.E. mission statement clearly articulates our collective beliefs well and includes this area of policy:

We share the view that a caring and morally mindful society must better safeguard children by allowing them to develop their unique personalities and behaviours without a first response to prescribe psychiatric drugs for their behavioural difficulties.

We especially believe that children under the age of five should not be prescribed psychiatric drugs if their behaviour is the only concern.

Through C.O.P.E.’s agreed objectives, which are below, as well as a newly launched Parliamentary Petition, we strive to reinvigorate the discussion on a ban for pre-school children and:

  1. Raise public awareness of the multiple risks from the inappropriate and excessive use of psychiatric drug interventions with vulnerable and very young children.
  2. Better Safeguard Looked After Children and other vulnerable groups from the potential toxic harm caused by the prescribing of psychiatric drugs.
  3. We believe that multi-agency pathways should be used for assessment (NICE 2018). National use of this type of pathway has improved the reliability of the assessment process for children on the autistic spectrum.
  4. Challenge the use of psychiatric drugs with children, particularly those under the age of five. Professional bodies such as the British Psychological Society and the Association of Educational Psychologists have major concerns about the potential risk of harm of these strong and toxic drugs at a time of rapid, continuing brain development. To encourage challenges of this by the use of the Division of Educational and Child Psychology’s‘ Reflective Checklist’ (2016) , which received international endorsements, as a way to help reduce excessive prescribing of psychiatric drugs with school-aged children.
  5. Gather information and trigger Freedom of Information Requests about data and trends that are relevant to C.O.P.E.’s key areas of concern such as the ‘Serious Side Effects’ on children that involve a significant medical response for the three main classes of psychiatric drugs (psycho-stimulants, anti-psychotics and anti-depressants).
  6. Promote the development of whole school approaches to promoting psychological well-being in schools and the first use of other alternative social interventions which are successfully used in other countries/cultures such as: the prescribing of exercise (France); the use of mindfulness training/yoga (Holland) and the use of a range of therapies such as Family, Art, Music, and Relaxation. This goes along with a better understanding of the holistic needs of children and how best to meet them all in school and community settings.

We have just launched an important new petition to help mobilise support amongst the public and other professionals for our fourth objective which we feel is critical to our collective societal values.

In addition, as a group we have recently written to The Guardian, in response to an article suggesting an increase in medicating more children, with a letter entitled Meds not the only answer for ADHD (published August 2018).

Please help us to better safeguard children, which is our shared primary duty, and challenge the inappropriate use of psychiatric drugs in the young by signing the petition and supporting our objectives through professional discussions in mental health teams and childrens’ services.

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