It’s almost two years since Justine Wilkinson’s daughter, Caitlin Wilkinson Whiticker, took her own life at their home.
Caitlin, 18, had battled severe and complex mental illness for most of her teens and had been a patient at the Barrett Centre, Queensland’s only long-term residential facility for adolescents with extreme mental illness.
“They have to have hope, that’s what keeps them going and for all its faults that’s what Barrett gave them,” Ms Wilkinson said.
“They went to Barrett and when they were a suicide threat, they were actually monitored 24-hours a day, always in contact with one staff member that was dedicated to them, so it was really intensive treatment.”
‘It was just too much pain.’
An inquiry heard a plan to replace the ageing Barrett Centre facility was scrapped under Queensland’s former LNP government and the facility was subsequently shut down in January 2014.
Within eight months, Ms Wilkinson Whiticker was dead.
“She’d just reached a point where she really just didn’t want to go on any longer. It was just too much pain,” Ms Wilkinson told 7.30.
“So we lost her.”
But Ms Wilkinson Whiticker was not the only one.
The Barrett Centre was a life-saver for desperately ill teenagers and their families. For Nichole Pryde the centre was a last resort for her mentally unwell daughter, Talieha.
“I fought hard to get her to go into Barrett because I thought that was the last chance, the last chance I had of keeping her alive,” Ms Pryde said.
When the centre closed 17-year-old Talieha was moved to an adult unit.
“They told me they’d never dealt with a person this young with these mental illnesses that she had and she was only there eight weeks and she passed away,” Ms Pryde said.
When Jo Olliver’s 18-year-old son Will Fowell was admitted to the Barrett Centre, a year before it closed, she was “absolutely relieved”.
“I’d been running on stress for so long. It was just overwhelming that there is that help and support out there,” Ms Olliver said.
When the centre closed, Ms Olliver said her son was lost.
“He went from his lovely support at the Barrett with his teachers, the counsellors, the psychiatrist, the nursing staff, all the other kids, a whole lot of activities, being engaged and everything, to him being with strangers in a unit,” she said.
Will took his own life five months later.
Government experts warned of closure
An ABC investigation revealed there had been multiple warnings in the lead up to the closure.
The Government’s advice — obtained under Right to Information laws — showed its own experts had considered a tier-3 residential facility like Barrett was essential because:
- “There is a small group of young people whose needs cannot be safely and effectively met through alternate service types”
- Managing them in the community was “associated with complexities of risk to self and others”
- One member of staff had warned they were “acutely aware of the risk of death or severe injury to the adolescents by their own hand if they are not cared for in a unit like Barrett”
When the Palasczcuk Government came to power it established an inquiry to investigate the closure and its impact on patients.
The inquiry heard from senior health bureaucrats who said the LNP government had ordered massive budget cuts and three months to find them. Among the cuts, the decision was made to scrap a plan to replace the Barrett Centre with a new residential facility.
The $16 million that had been allocated for that project was redirected.
Queensland Health had also said the Barrett Centre was an outdated model of care. The department promised adequate replacement services, but the inqury heard key services were delayed.