According to the Place2Be a children’s mental health charity, 1 in 8 children and young people have a diagnosable mental health problem, and many continue to have these problems into adulthood.

What does this have to do with Human Rights?

The Human Rights Act protects the rights of everyone. It doesn't matter what age you are, it protects the rights of 5 year olds, 95 year olds and everyone in between. This video explains how the Human Rights Act works for children and young people:

Sometimes, children and young people need some help and support with their mental health. The protection that we get from the Human Rights Act continues to apply, regardless if a child or young person is receiving mental health support whilst living at home or if they have had to go to an inpatient unit.

All services providing mental health support to young people in the UK have a legal duty under the Human Rights Act to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of all the children and young people using their services.

The Human Rights Act contains 16 rights:


Some of the key rights that often come up children and young people’s mental health services are:


Human Rights in Practice

The right to life means that staff working with a child or young person in a mental health setting have a to take reasonable steps to protect a young person’s life where it is known to be at immediate risk, this might include observing a person known to be at risk of taking their life.

The right not to be torture or treated in an inhuman or degrading way protects people from serious abuse or neglect which causes mental or physical harm, or humiliates them. Children can never be treated in a way that is inhuman or degrading. For example, restraint or seclusion of children and young people can, at times, reach the level of inhuman and degrading treatment.

Although there is sometimes a need to restrict a child or young person’s liberty for mental health treatment, the right to liberty means that certain safeguards must be put in place when this happens. The key issue for practitioners is to ensure that this is the least restrictive intervention possible in order to achieve a legitimate aim.

The right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence in this context would mean, for example, supporting young people to maintain family/ other relationships by facilitating visits where possible, being flexible about visiting times. This right also ideas around autonomy and choice and would mean that staff should consult the young person and involve them in decisions about their care/treatment


A Real Life Example of Human Rights in Practice

The St Aubyn Centre is a Tier 4 service. Young people are admitted from all over the country, potentially separating them from their family and friends for many weeks. An ongoing problem for staff, common to many mental health in-patient services, has been managing access to mobile phones and the internet. There are additional concerns with young people around internet grooming, exploitation and inappropriate usage. This made staff fearful of being blamed for allowing such access and potentially placing a young person in a vulnerable position whilst in their care. This resulted in young people not having access to phones and the internet.

Following their involvement in BIHR’s Delivering Compassionate Care project, St Aubyn applied a human rights approach and individualised care planning and have made the following changes:

Mobile phones: previously the service policy banned young people’s use of mobile phones due to safety concerns (both harm to the young person or them using the phones for harm). The policy was reviewed and now all young people have access to their mobile phones, with safety concerns being managed on an individual basis, giving more responsibility to the young person. This has improved young people’s ability to maintain contact with their family and friends and provided staff with a framework for managing access issue.

Internet access: this had also been restricted due to safety concerns. The service drafted a new policy, allowing young people access to the internet, with safety concerns being addressed by staff on an individual basis. The aim is to further improve young people’s contact with their family and friends, and gives staff a clear framework to respect rights and uphold their duties to protect against harm.


More Information

  • For more information on children and young people’s mental health you download the guide here or order hard copies here of our resource: Mental Health Care for Children and Young People and Human Rights: A practitioner’s guide.
  • Read more about the children, young people and human rights and the law here.