Danielle, aged 21, talks about how support from the youth justice system and mental health services fell away when she was regarded as an adult and the impact it had on her life.
I was involved in children’s and young people’s mental health services from the age of 13 or 14 and I had the same worker for years. I was put in touch with her through the youth justice system as part of a court order. She was really helpful and I had a good relationship with her. When I turned 18 though, I no longer had her supporting me.
I was used to always having someone to support and, when I turned 18, I thought I would have a different person supporting me straight away, but it was all up to me. I tried to refer myself into the adult system. I had to go to the doctors and wait for a referral and then I had to go through a brand new assessment process. I didn’t know what to say. After my assessment, I went for a meeting and they said they didn’t think I really needed help – that the issues weren’t severe enough.
I didn’t have any support for my mental health for about a year. At the same time, the support I was receiving from youth justice services ended. I had also moved out of supported accommodation and into my own place. I was quite mature and had done really well in supported accommodation where there were staff 24/7 and I had weekly appointments. After I left, they cut me down to one appointment a month. I thought I was ready at the time but, looking back I was still a young person. I was struggling and I was struggling alone.
I was at college at the time and I became quite unwell. My mental health deteriorated. I tried to go back to the doctor but they kept saying the same thing and eventually I gave up. After some hospital admissions, I did get a new referral for mental health services. I have support now and a good relationship with my nurse, but it was a bad experience and I should have had the support the whole way through – I always needed it and it would have saved me a lot of hassle.
For me, support actually started to stop when I was 16 when I moved into a hostel and my social worker said that he didn’t feel like I needed him anymore. For other young people it happens at 18 and they’re just left to their own devices. There’s a massive gap where they’ve probably gone from having loads of support – probably too many workers and too many people involved in their life – to having absolutely nothing. You’re not really sure where you should go from there.
For people involved with youth justice who’ve gone on to turn 18 and been passed over to probation, you can get into so much trouble. As soon as it’s someone’s birthday, all of a sudden they get chucked into things that adults have to deal with. If you don’t go to a couple of your appointments or you miss your community service then you get breached and you’re off to prison. In the youth justice service, they understand people have difficulties, and that’s why they’re doing the things they’re doing. The youth justice service was very helpful for me and luckily I’d stopped getting into trouble just before I turned 18 but I was never told or prepared for what would have happened if I had crossed over into adult services.
I think young people need more information and guidance into how things are going to change when you’re older rather than being left in the dark. It’s a massive change and you need to be aware of that. I also think young people need support for that period where you’re technically an adult but you’re still the same person that you were. That support needs to be flexible because different people will need different things. I’m lucky that I can do a lot of things myself but I know people my age who still need a lot of support.
I’ve also had support from Getaway Girls. It’s an organisation just for girls and young women. That kind of support isn’t available everywhere but sometimes its good to be in that environment. I’ve done an introduction to youth work course with Getaway Girls which I enjoyed and I’m about to do my law degree. I want to do something to help people in the same situation I was when I was younger.