Mental health and well-being of looked-after children Contents
Annex 1: Informal session with looked-after young people and care leavers
The following is a summary of a discussion between young people in care, care leavers and members of the Committee. The discussion was facilitated by staff from the NSPCC and The Who Cares? Trust and took place in Parliament on 25 November 2015. As much as possible the notes are written in the words that the young people used to describe their experiences and views.
Challenges in the care system
- It’s hard to know what’s going on, you feel different and you feel like you are the only one in care.
- There are lots of professionals in your life to deal with.
- Foster carers sometimes don’t focus on love and nurture. They just focus on the practical stuff and if you need emotional support they just refer you to CAMHS.
- Social workers change too much and you’re constantly changing schools, areas and carers.
- It’s so intimidating, you feel like you can’t say anything bad about social workers and foster carers.
- If you come into care for mental health in family reasons but no one explains it to you then you can spend a long time worrying that you’re going to ‘get’ the same mental health issues as your parents.
- Children are not being told the real reason they’ve been brought into care.
- Young people don’t feel like they have a voice, they’re not involved in the process and as things progress they feel less and less like they understand or know what is going on.
- A feeling of isolation and not having someone you trust is very hard. Foster carers are strangers when you meet them and social workers don’t have enough time for you. You feel different from everyone else and if you’re seen as a clinical case it impacts on your mental health.
- If you’re moving schools suddenly it’s hard for schools to get involved in supporting you.
- My school was great. I did well at school because my school cared.
- PSHE lessons should be giving out information. Even just a half-hour session once a week on mental health or self-harm and where the right resources are or people to speak to are.
- There is counselling, but it isn’t pushed. It’s a hidden thing.
- People ask questions, is that your Mum/Auntie? I don’t like that. It adds to the stigma. You feel like something is wrong with you being in care, it puts a label on your forehead and singles you out.
Carers and support
- Continuity is an issue. If there is a problem in your placement, you just get moved.
- There needs to be better processes in place to end relationships. I had a social worker and I rang up and they said they’d left, then you end up with a duty social worker. You could get a really good one but you just assume they’re going to leave.
- There should be more emphasis on how foster carers nurture children. There’s lots of focus on CAMHS and therapy. But you wouldn’t expect birth parents to send children to CAHMS without emotional support. Carers don’t know how to give emotional support.
- Foster carers need to get better. Young people shouldn’t have lots of professionals in a young people’s life. Social workers only come round every 6 weeks.
- We need better recruitment and training of foster carers. I had 47 placements and only about three I would put through a foster care panel. They don’t want to invest in a child emotionally. There’s great training out there but it’s not mandatory.
- In the short term I had lots of social workers. If I had one social worker they might have tried to solve problems instead of just moving me. Every time I got a new social worker I seemed to move.
Experience of CAMHS
- Therapists are not always trained in care, so you spend lots of time in sessions explaining the care system. Some local authorities have CAMHS just for looked-after children.
- Doctors refer young people to CAMHS, and then the young person receives a message saying “you are not a priority”. This is disgusting and a huge self-esteem blow.
- CAMHS is patchy across the country. Different local authorities have very different service levels.
What makes good support for mental health care?
- Young person led training for foster carers and all professionals within the care system so that they get to hear directly from young people and in turn they get to ask questions directly to the young people.
- I had a good CAMHS worker, she stuck up for me. She wasn’t focussed on ticking boxes, she cared about me.
- There should be a focus on relationships, there is someone at my local authority who has been there since I was in care but I didn’t go to her because I didn’t bond with her. A good system responds to that.
- Health and social services need to talk. My hospital placement ended but no one told social services so I had to stay in hospital even though I didn’t want to be there because they couldn’t find me anywhere to go.
What makes bad support for mental health care?
- Foster placements are out of your control. Because I was a ‘good’ child, I wasn’t placed with specialist foster carers.
- Continuity and stability is so important and children in care don’t have any.
- I had 28 foster parents, I wanted to be in residential care. When I did move to a children’s home and I had one placement.
- The state took us away from our parents, the Government are now our parents. Parents will do anything for you but the state doesn’t provide that.
- When I was at home I understood what was going on but when I was in care I didn’t know and I still don’t know what’s going on.
- Access to services if you live out of area is difficult, if I want to access services I have to go back to my local authority but I don’t live there.