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Quarter of councils fail to monitor mental health of children in care

1/4 of local authorities are failing to adequately assess and monitor the mental health needs of looked-after children according to a report Achieving Emotional Wellbeing for Looked-After Children.

Despite around ½ children in care in England and Wales having a diagnosable mental health disorder (4 x the general child population) they found that a quarter of councils had made either "very little" or "no mention" of looked-after children’s mental health in their published strategies.

 The study found that:

  • Children’s "strengths and difficulties" questionnaires, which are mental health screening tools, are often completed at the child’s entry to care but are not properly analysed and used to inform the child’s care plan
  • A child's health assessment often has very little emphasis on their mental health. As a result, the child’s care plan may not consider their mental health and wellbeing needs and the carer’s support needs
  • Services are often responsive to crisis rather than intervening early to prevent problems from escalating 

The study was based on interviews with 178 people, including children in care, care leavers, residential care workers, children's social workers, independent reviewing officers and child and adolescent mental health services workers.

The NSPCC has made five recommendations for improvement including a call for local authorities to place emphasis on emotional wellbeing throughout the system, take a "proactive and preventative approach" to mental health, give children and young people voice and influence, support and sustain children’s relationships, and support care leavers’ emotional needs.

Louise Bazalgette, who authored the report said: “We heard stories from children and young people who had been extremely distressed while they were in care, but the way they communicated through challenging or withdrawn behaviour was often misunderstood.

 

We need to take a whole-system approach which recognises children’s individual needs.

 

Each child should have a personalised assessment when they enter care and professionals, including carers, social workers and teachers, need training and support to help them understand what they can do to help.”