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Jonathan and Sam Lethbridge

Local MPs have lent their support to a Borehamwood family who say that Hertfordshire County Council’s “diabolical” support structure failed their mentally ill 10-year old daughter. 

Sam and Jonathan Lethbridge say they were forced to sell their house last year to pay for private care when they “lost faith” in the county’s mental health services for children, prompting Sam to start a support group and write to the prime minister.

Her open letter to David Cameron, which has been widely circulated online, talks of her “sheer desperation,” adding: “Our family is being destroyed by mental health issues and there is absolutely no support.”

Her daughter has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Asperger Syndrome, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, anxiety, depression and dyslexia, with Sam saying: “The ‘terrible two’s’ never really ended for us.”

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Oliver Dowden

Among the parliamentarians now helping them make their case is Oliver Dowden MP, the family’s Conservative representative, and Luciana Berger MP, Labour’s shadow minister for mental health.

Sam’s public show of frustration comes after her daughter’s health deteriorated in October last year, when she was discharged from a specialist hospital, with Hertfordshire children’s services teams taking up responsibility.

“She was in a much better place when she left Bromley,” said Sam. “The plan was for her to go to a specialist school for one year, then to a mainstream school with a specialist unit attached to it, but because CAMHS (the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) didn’t support her on discharge, she’s now not ready to go.”

The family wrote a series of letters to the authorities, taking aim at CAMHS in particular, with Berger offering to help, and Dowden raising their concerns. Hertfordshire County Council said they supported the Lethbridges through both CAMHS and PALMS (Positive behaviour, Autism, Learning disability, Mental health Service), noting that the family cancelled several appointments.

Sam, whose online support group now has almost 1,000 members, this week said: “The children’s mental health system is completely broken. It’s falling apart. There are so many parents now saying they have had similar problems. Hertfordshire is diabolical. It’s ruined any future hope of where [her daughter] was going.”

The council makes direct payments for carers, and provides a taxi service for hospital appointments, but Sam says that the council should have intervened sooner, and says this is a general failing around the country, with a lack of awareness of mental health issues in schools compounding the problem.

However, in a letter to Dowden, Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust chief executive David Law said that in July last year “Mr Lethbridge said he did not want support from PALMS and in particular he did not wish for any additional assessment”.

In addition, Law tells Dowden that in October, “Mr Lethbridge said that he was not interested in behavioural interventions and the approach that PALMS offered and was only interested in a pharmacological approach”.

Dowden said: “I have huge sympathy for the position that the Lethbridge family find themselves in and I am determined to do everything I can. They also raised concerns about the wider provision of child and adolescent mental health services. I will be raising those concerns at the highest levels.”