In March 2015 the Department for Education and the Department of Health jointly published new statutory guidance on Promoting the health and well-being of looked-after children. The guidance recognised that almost half of children in care have a diagnosable mental health disorder.
Provision for looked-after children with mental health concerns is poor in many areas across England. Some local authorities are providing integrated services with a strong focus on multi-agency working and support for key workers such as foster carers and school staff. However, a significant number are failing to identify mental health issues when children enter care and services are turning away vulnerable young people for not meeting diagnostic thresholds or being without a stable placement. It is important that all children who need access to CAMHS get it in a timely manner. We believe that looked-after children should be viewed as a priority for access to mental health assessments and never refused care based on their placement or severity of their condition.
Co-ordination between health, education and social services at a local level is at the heart of effective support for looked-after children with mental health difficulties. We have seen evidence of local authorities who have co-located their services and are implementing the aims articulated in last year’s aspirational Future in Mind report. Co-ordination must be driven by strong leadership and we recommend that each local area employ a senior, designated mental health professional to oversee provision.
Children and young people need to be better supported as they enter and leave the care system. We recommend that care leavers should be able to access CAMHS up until the age of 25 if necessary and that initial assessments of those entering care should be more thoroughly and consistently carried out.
Schools and teachers have an important role to play. But, they should not be administering specialist advice or acting as the sole source of support for their students. We advocate a ‘whole-school approach’ to mental health. Through initial teacher training (ITT) all teachers should be trained in mental health and well-being. Current training and development for foster and residential carers in mental health and well-being is of variable quality, but when done properly is a critical part of providing looked-after children with stability and security in their placement.
Addressing the lack of reliable data about the state of children’s and young people’s mental health must be a priority for the Government. We are disappointed that it has been 12 years since the last prevalence survey on children’s mental health was conducted.
Finally, the voices of the children and young people in the care system must be heard at every stage. Their input into care planning and the services they receive is crucial to ensuring successful placements and the formation of lasting relationships with the many professionals in their life.
Prepared 27 April 2016