The report by the Education Committee on the mental health and well-being of looked after children is publshed today, revealing how vulnerable children in care continue to be turned away from mental health treatment.
According to the Education Select Committee report, almost half of children in care have a diagnosable mental health disorder, with looked-after children four times more likely than their non-looked after peers to have a mental health condition. ACP members are specialists who work with these most vulnerable of children and young people and many members who work in CAMHS services report that these young people are just not getting through to see the specialists they need.
Looked-after children face significant challenges in getting access to mental health support. The report finds child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) are turning away vulnerable young people in care because they have not met high thresholds for treatment or because the children are without a stable placement. This is contrary to statutory guidance which states that looked-after children should never be refused a service on the grounds of their placement. To help tackle this inflexibility, the report recommends looked-after children be given priority access to mental health assessments by specialist practitioners, with subsequent treatment based on clinical need.
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”.
ACP Chair Heather Stewart welcomes 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.”
Young people leaving care in the UK are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. They are also more likely to enter the criminal justice system. The Committee finds current support for young people leaving care is inadequate and based too heavily on inflexible age restrictions. The Committee recommends care leavers should be able to access CAMHS up until the age of 25 (rather than 18 at present) and that initial assessments of those entering care should be more thoroughly and consistently carried out.
The report recognizes the important role which schools and teachers have in supporting looked-after children but makes it clear that schools and teachers should receive training and support. The Committee recommends that through initial teacher training (ITT) all teachers should be also trained in mental health and well-being.
Neil Carmichael, Chair of the Education Committee said: “As part of this inquiry, we heard the direct experiences of care leavers and children in care as they talked about the challenges they face in the care system and what makes for good mental health care. It’s crucial that the voice of young people is at the heart of the care planning and services looked-after children receive. Coordination between local health, education and social services is another vital element of effective support for looked-after children with mental health difficulties. This integration needs strong leadership and we recommend that each local area employs a senior mental health professional to drive this forward.”
Read the full report here
For news story read here