Prioritising emotional and mental health for children in care

Posted by Abigail Gill / Tuesday 13 January 2015 / Children in care Care leavers Early intervention

Our response to a government consultation on promoting the health and welfare of looked-after children last week was an opportunity to highlight the need to prioritise the emotional and mental health of children and young people in care. From our research and direct work with vulnerable young people, we know that this is an area of urgent need.

We’re calling for the Government to prioritise the emotional and mental health of children in its care.

Our Too much, too young report is based on the stories of vulnerable young people. Time and time again we heard about the devastating impact of poor emotional health and how young people aren’t given the support they need.

Children in care have different emotional heath needs to other children and young people because of their early experiences. Going into care is a process of loss. Children and young people are separated from family members, usually including their parents, their homes, and often their friends. This in itself is an incredibly traumatic process, on top of the issues that led to them going into care.

Because of this experience, we know that children and young people in care are more likely to experience emotional and mental health problems. And those problems are likely to disrupt placement stability and lead to attachment problems, where children and young people find it difficult to form positive relationships.

‘Every single day is a struggle for me because I know that I am not wanted. I try not to form attachments because people let me down. I have learned to hide my emotions but I am in a bad place at the moment’ – care leaver

Early support

Many vulnerable children and young people don’t receive emotional and mental health support until they reach crisis. We want support to be available to them at the earliest possible point to prevent problems from escalating. As a minimum, we’re calling on local authorities to provide the most vulnerable children and young people with therapeutic care placements that actively develop emotional wellbeing; address psychological trauma, and help them develop resilient and positive relationships.

‘They helped me with therapy skills so that I could live an easier happier everyday life. They helped sort out my emotions and relationships using mindfulness to deal with situations that may arise’ – care leaver

A good transition to adulthood

We are also concerned that many young people face losing vital support when they turn 18. Many care leavers fall below thresholds for adult services as they are higher than children’s health and social care, despite their continued need.

One practitioner told us ‘the young person has been referred to the Community Mental Health Team twice, and the Local Authority’s Learning Disabilities Team and the Vulnerable Adults Team but they have assessed them as not needing a service. This has been difficult for the young person to deal with.’ 

Our research shows that care leavers rarely have the stability or support networks that other teenagers have. They tell us that they need support to deal with emotional and mental health problems before they can rise to the practical challenges of independent living.

All sides of the corporate parent, including health, should respond to poor emotional and mental health. This failure not only makes it significantly more challenging for the most vulnerable young people to move into independence, but actually sets them up to fail.

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