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Commissioner for Fundamental Rights Takes Stand on the Prevention of Suicidal Behaviours in Children and Adolescents

At the moment, the recognition of potential suicidal behaviours in children and adolescents and the efficient prevention thereof are hindered, and the rights of children may be violated due to the lack of appropriate professional regulations and practices related to the tasks of school psychologists, who fulfil the role of “gatekeepers”, as was concluded by the Ombudsman. This is why Dr. Ákos Kozma proposed that a specific working group be set up for this purpose by the competent ministry.

The Hungarian Blue Line Child-Crisis Foundation turned to the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights on behalf of a complainant mother, with that the complainant’s child had requested help on their social media site and inquired whether he would be admitted to the Psychiatry Department of Heim Pál Children’s Hospital without his parents. As it turned out, he had very concerning suicidal thoughts and ideations, and he had also harmed himself. After one week, the child called the Foundation again, which made a signal to the school psychologist and the district child welfare agency that they deemed competent, saying that the child needed psychological support. The child welfare agency that had been thus contacted electronically forwarded the signal to the competent child welfare agency, which arrived two weeks later, and this is when the provision of family support services began.

In his report on case No. AJB-1151/2021, Dr. Ákos Kozma drew attention to that school psychologists play a key role in identifying the suicide attempts and their potential occurrence, as it is usually them who the children, or the other persons who become aware of such situations turn to with their problems, it is to them that they can give signals. Thus, in a certain sense, a school psychologist acts as a “gatekeeper”, who is capable of assessing the situation and the potential seriousness of the suicide intention.

The Ombudsman also mentioned that it happens, as it happened in the case under review, that the school psychologists begin to provide psychological support to students only in possession of the parent’s written consent. This means that if the school psychologist only receives a signal of a suicidal ideation, they may ask the student who made the signal to do the same towards the parent and the child welfare agency, and they may direct the child and the family to the outpatient psychiatry department for children and adolescents. Thus, however, providing assistance may be halted, which is especially problematic if the parent is the very person who is involved in endangering the child. It was established by the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights that such a practice contradicts the professional regulations, so it is suitable for causing an impropriety related to the child’s right to protection.

The report says that the timely recognition of cases of children’s suicide attempts and their potential occurrence, providing out of order support, as well as targeted treatments, the prevention of potential suicides and severe situations of self-harming pose serious challenges to all experts. According to the information provided by the Foundation, the story of the child in the case is not unique. In 2018, 990 of the total 35,142 inquiries, in 2019, 1,230 of the total 50,276 inquiries, while in 2020, 1,174 of the total 46,656 inquiries were related to suicides. It was pointed out by the Ombudsman that the protection of the rights of the child, and the obligation of the state to protect life require that complex professional and legal rules be created and applied in this area as well. He also indicated that currently, uniform and comprehensive specific guidelines on preventive intervention and treatment are missing.

The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights proposed to the Minister of Human Capacities that he set up a professional working group to review the current practices, and establish comprehensive professional regulations based on clear definitions regarding the recognition, treatment and prevention of suicidal behaviour in children and adolescents.

Please, find the relevant report at this link: AJB-1151/2021.