Welcome progress on mental health support for children in care

Posted by / Monday 05 December 2016 / Press release
too much too young

Overshadowed by revelations of historic child abuse in professional football and continued controversy over the government’s abuse enquiry, there was positive news for children in care last week.

With support from across the health and social care sectors, Lib Dem peer Baroness Claire Tyler successfully persuaded government ministers to consider amending the Children and Social Work Bill to include mandatory mental health assessments for looked after children and young people in England.
Current health checks for children entering foster and residential care do not routinely cover mental health or emotional wellbeing - a situation campaigners have long deemed unacceptable.
"The most important thing is to feel love and feel accepted – I don’t have that. Every single day is a struggle for me because I know that I am not wanted. I try not to form attachments because people let me down. I have learned to hide my emotions but I am in a bad place at the moment"

Young person in care

Many looked after children entering care have endured trauma and abuse and evidence shows at least 45 per cent of children have a diagnosable mental health issue – this rises to more than 70 per cent for those children entering residential care.

Continuing to struggle with experiences of loss and separation has a long-lasting impact on children’s emotional wellbeing and can lead to mental health difficulties. This often contributes to poor school performance, anti-social behaviour, running away from placements, self-harm and an increased risk of suicide.

As part of its wider mental health strategy, the Government has now agreed to begin testing and piloting mental health assessments for 10,000 young people about to enter care, with around ten local authorities trialing certain age groups from April next year.

“We’ve been calling for better psychological support for these young people for a long time”, explains Emma Smale, co-chair of the Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers, and head of policy and research at Action for Children.

“We therefore welcome this announcement – it’s a promising and significant first step towards making a real and lasting improvement to the lives of our looked after children and young people.”

It is hoped the pilots will also help foster carers better understand and address the emotional and mental health needs of children in their care and flag up any further training they may need themselves.

Putting greater emphasis on the education of foster parents and all health and social care professionals involved in a child’s care will form the next stage of the campaign.

Smale continues: “The commitment to better identify mental health and emotional needs must be tied with stronger requirements on health professionals to play a more effective and instrumental role in improving the health of looked after children.

“They need to have the capacity to better understand the specific needs of these children - many have been abused or neglected and their needs simply don’t fit traditional clinical diagnoses.

"Piloting mental health assessments is a great first step but unless it’s paired with the necessary expertise of how to care for them, we’ll be back to square one"

Emma Smale, Head of Policy and Research at Action for children