Child psychiatrists and paediatricians are faced by a number of disturbed children and adolescents who become a major treatment challenge due to a combination of their dangerous and/or disruptive behaviour and the unavailability of resources. Paediatricians and psychiatrists in one regional health area were questioned about the number of such children and adolescents under 18 years of age seen over a 20 month period. The response rate was 44% (86/194 specialists approached). A total of 72 children and adolescents were identified. For a health district with a total population of 200,000, this represents nearly five children (about one of these identified by paediatricians and one with associated learning disability). The majority of cases were adolescents with chronic problems (over one month's duration) but most cases reported by paediatricians were acute in preadolescents. Conduct disorders, autistic spectrum, and psychotic disorders were the most common clinical problems. Seriously disruptive behaviour had been present in two thirds and marked problems with behaviour that was a physical risk to others and to the self were present in over half and nearly a third of cases respectively. Services had been universally stretched by these children's difficulties. Clinicians thought the needs of these children would have been best met either through psychiatric day hospital type facilities or in combined paediatric/child psychiatric inpatient units.
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