Professionals need mental health training to support looked after children

Everyone working with looked-after children should be trained in children and young people’s mental health, says Working Group

Published on 6th November 2017

Everyone working directly with looked after children should receive training on children and young people’s mental health, a report has urged.

An Expert Working Group set up to ensure that the emotional and mental health needs of children and young people in care are met has warned that those working directly with young people do not always receive sufficient training to support complex mental health needs.

A quality statement in the report states that: “Foster carers, special guardians, kinship carers, adoptive parents and those providing first-line support in children’s homes are recognised and valued as members of the workforce. They are provided with opportunities for training and development and are included in decision-making. They have access to support and advice from specialist mental health services for their own mental health and that of the child for whom they are caring.”

As a result, everyone working with looked-after children should access training so they are equipped with the appropriate skills and caregivers should receive support for their own mental health and wellbeing.

Caregivers also need to be informed of which statutory and non-statutory services are available when support is needed for the child or young person. The report adds that it is “crucial” that services are funded to support caregivers’ training and development.

Every school should have a designated teacher with the training and competence in identifying and understanding the mental health needs of all their pupils who are looked-after.

In February 2016 the Department for Education announced that an Expert Working Group would be created to ensure that the emotional and mental health needs of children and young people in care, adopted from care, under kinship care, under Special Guardianship Orders, as well as care leavers, would be better met. The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) was contracted by the Departments of Health and Education to establish the Expert Working Group to support this work.

“One of the key issues that we recognised was that good quality ongoing assessment must be the foundation of a comprehensive strategy of support and services,” said the report. “One of the strongest views of the Expert Working Group was that local areas need to be able to provide consistent care and support for a child, with an understanding that their diagnosis and therefore the type of support services they need can change. Therefore, assessment and services must be responsive and flexible. Mental health is a continuum and cannot be seen as a one-off diagnosis.”

As a result, the report suggests that the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire should be supported by a broader set of measures which can trigger a comprehensive mental health assessment. There are a range of tools in use that could support the assessment depending on the need of the young person.

Furthermore, assessments should focus on understanding the individual’s mental health and emotional wellbeing in the context of their current situation and past experiences, rather than solely focusing on the presenting symptoms. The young person, their caregivers, family and professionals’ viewpoints should be included.

A needs-based model is the best way to support and respond to young people said the report, urging that this model places the young person at the centre of decision-making and where appropriate lets them exercise choice as to how and what support they access. This allows appropriate support to be generated by need, rather than diagnosis.

Indeed, formal services should be more flexible in who they will allow to support the young person, acknowledging that support can come from a range of services and places. Health, education and social services need to work collaboratively to achieve this recommendation.

The Local Safeguarding Children Board, Corporate Parent Board and Health and Wellbeing Board should give appropriate priority to ensuring that the mental health needs of children and young people in care and leaving care are met.

Clinical Commissioning Groups should ensure commissioning is informed by a Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) which addresses the mental health and wellbeing needs of looked after children and care leavers. This should be reflected in Local Transformation Plans.

“Change needs to happen now, and it is our hope that this report provides a platform for that change and the necessary call for action,” the report concluded.

Improving mental health support for our children and young people


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