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Mental health services for looked after children and care leavers – new survey results

6th July 2020


Healthy London Partnership (HLP) today (Monday, 6 July 2020) have published a report on the survey of mental health services for looked after children and care leavers.

The report draws attention to themes emerging from a survey undertaken during 2019 of mental health services for looked after children and care leavers across London by HLP’s Children and Young People’s Programme. The findings of the survey also provide a good basis for understanding and planning further improvements to these very important services.

Looked after children are significantly more likely to experience a mental health problem and have been identified within Future in Mind and the NHS Long Term Plan as one of the most vulnerable groups in terms of emotional wellbeing and mental health. It is estimated that nearly 50 per cent of looked after children will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health disorder.  This was acknowledged by the Department of Education and Department of Health in their statutory guidance on promoting the health and wellbeing of looked-after children. Children from black backgrounds and children with mixed ethnicity are proportionately over-represented within the looked after children population.

Traditional mental health services have not always best addressed the needs of looked after children and care leavers due to their unique circumstances, such as the number of placement moves. Also, all looked after children are likely to have experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that are likely to require emotional support.

The findings in the report have highlighted a high level of variation across London in both the extent of the offer that is made to looked after children and care leavers and in the nature or model of the offer.

This report sets out recommendations for CCGs and Local Authorities and highlights key areas of best practice. It also contains key messages for all those with corporate parenting responsibilities including practitioners, leaders of services for children and young people, scrutiny bodies and policymakers. The report highlights encouraging work being undertaken but emphasises that more needs to be done to ensure the availability of mental and emotional health services for vulnerable and looked after children and young people.

Given the current pandemic, it is more paramount than ever to ensure that specialist mental health services are meeting the needs of the young people to which they serve. As a follow up to this report, HLP want to undertake further engagement with services to support additional learning and improvement in this area. As part of this work, there will be an opportunity to draw on key learnings from services from throughout the coronavirus pandemic, such as the delivery of support services by virtual means which shows promise for this population group who can experience barriers to accessing services, due to a lack of permanent placement.

Ian Lewis, Local Authority Adviser, Child Mental Health, Healthy London Partnership, said: “We know that nearly half of all children in care and care leavers may be struggling with their mental health.

“Leaders in health and children’s social care are committed to making a difference and asked Healthy London Partnership to undertake this survey to understand what support is available.

“The report shows that there is specialist support available and that children in care are identified as a priority. But there is still more to do to ensure these children and young people can benefit from mental health services.”

For more information and to download the full report visit Looked after children and carers leavers outcome report

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