A SHORTAGE of psychiatric hospital beds in Scotland means young people at risk of suicide and self-harm are being "placed inappropriately in secure accommodation", according to a report into deaths among children and teenagers in care.

The first report of its kind by the Care Inspectorate found that there had been 61 deaths among children and young people known to care services between 2012 and 2018.

Among them were 42 deaths in children aged 17 and under who were still in full-time care.

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These included 14 young people "who died in tragic circumstances that were typically as a culmination of life-threatening behaviours including substance misuse, self-harm and attempted suicides."

The report adds: "These young people ranged from 13 to 17 years at the time of their death and most most were young men...half the young people had experienced placements in secure accommodation".

Their lives were "commonly characterised by a combination of adverse childhood experiences" such as bereavement, neglect by their parents, homelessness, exposure to domestic violence or sexual and physical abuse.

The report went on to say that it was a "common theme" that "young people at high risk of self-harming and suicide [were] said to have been placed inappropriately in secure accommodation because there was no available inpatient mental health facility".

There are only 55 inpatient mental health beds for children and young people in Scotland.

The number has barely changed from 54 a decade ago, but did peak at 72 in 2016/17.

Additional beds are expected to become available next year when Scotland's first secure mental health unit for children and young people opens in Ayrshire.

A spokesman for the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition said: “This Care Inspectorate report shines a highly disturbing light on the lack of mental health support available for care experienced children and young people, which is a theme we commonly here impacting on children and young people more generally.

"It is estimated that just under half of those in care looked after by local authorities are assessed as having a mental health problem.

"The trauma experienced by looked after children and young people early in life means that this population face complex and often long term mental ill health."

A further 16 children known to care services died from a life-shortening condition or a terminal illness, while a further 12 deaths were unexplained or "due to misadventure".

This included three drownings and road traffic fatalities among children who were looked after by foster parents, kinship carers or at home with social work supervision.

Of the 12, most were aged under five, and seven were less than a year old when they died.

The report states: "Looked after children in this category were typically born prematurely with some diagnosed with neonatal abstinence or foetal alcohol syndromes in addition to other health complications.

"The cause of death was unexplained and most commonly attributed to sudden unexplained death in infancy [cot death]."

In addition to these 42 deaths, there were also 19 deaths recorded between January 2015 and December 2018 in young people aged 19 to 26, of which 15 were young men.

Most were in receipt of "aftercare" - part of a new legal duty placed on councils in 2014 to ease the transition out of care for adolescents who cease to be looked after by the state on or after their 16th birthday.

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However, the report says there is a lack of information about the circumstances surrounding these young people's deaths.

It adds: "This would help in lessons to be learned and assess whether these children and young people were getting the appropriate level of support."

The Care Inspectorate has been commissioned to create a new hub to review and learn from the circumstances around the deaths of all children aged up to 17, of which there were 2,187 between 2012 and 2018.

The watchdog said this could help establish whether those in care were more likely to die prematurely.

The report states: "At present, we simply do not know whether a looked after child or young person is more likely to die in childhood than their peers and if so, why this is the case and what actions should be taken to reduce any deaths deemed preventable."

Peter Macleod, chief executive of the Care Inspectorate, said: “The death of a care-experienced child or young person is always traumatic for families, friends, carers and staff. Each death has a far-reaching impact on all those striving to improve the wellbeing and life chances of this vulnerable group in our society.

“While we can reach no statistically valid conclusions as the numbers of deaths are so small, the experiences of these children and young people, their carers and the staff providing them with help and support provide us with valuable learning and good practice examples that merit wider dissemination.”

Children and Young People’s Minister Maree Todd said: “The death of a child in any circumstances is a tragedy, for them and for those who love and care for them.

“Self-harm is an acutely serious issue and we agree with the Care Inspectorate’s report that vulnerable children and young people should have appropriate mental and emotional health support.

"The central vision of our Mental Health Strategy is that we want the right help to be available at the right time across Scotland, and as part of that we are exploring how we can improve services specifically for care-experienced children and young people.”