MPs criticise provision of mental health services for children in care

Education select committee says mental health provision is poor in many areas

Published on 3rd May 2016


Provision for looked-after children with mental health concerns is poor in many areas across England, the Education Select Committee has stated.

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, the committee finds in its report into the mental health of looked-after children.

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,” said the report.

Neil Carmichael, Chair of the Education Committee, said: “Local authorities have a special responsibility for the welfare of looked-after children. In spite of this duty, it’s clear that many looked-after children in England are not getting the mental health support they need. At present, CAMHS are not assessing or treating children in care because these children do not have a stable placement.

“Given children in care may have unstable family lives and are frequently moving foster or residential placement, this inflexibility puts vulnerable children in care at a serious disadvantage in getting the support they deserve. This must change. We recommend children in care be given priority access to mental health assessments and never refused care based on their placement or severity of their condition,” he adds.

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 found that almost half of children in care have a diagnosable mental health disorder.

However, the committee said it was “disappointed” that it has been 12 years since the last prevalence survey on children’s mental health was conducted and 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.

The report highlights that children and young people need to be better supported as they enter and leave the care system. The committee recommends 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.

All teachers should be trained in mental health and well-being in their initial teacher training, the committee adds advocating a ‘whole-school approach’ to mental health.

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. There is 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. However, co-ordination must be driven by strong leadership and the committee recommends that each local area employ a senior, designated mental health professional to oversee provision.

“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,” the report concludes.

Association of Child Psychotherapists chair Heather Stewart welcomed the new report: “This report highlights how vulnerable children in care are not able to access mental health treatment. It comes at a time when many CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) teams are going through service redesigns, in which many senior psychology and psychotherapy posts are being cut or downgraded.”

Mental health and wellbeing of looked-after children

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