Children playing outsideShort, solution-focused intervention can help address mental health needs of children in care according to the findings of an NSPCC pilot programme.

Around half of children in care in England and Wales have a diagnosable mental health disorder – four times higher than the general child population (find out more on this here). To counter this, the charity launched ‘Face to Face’, a service for children and young people aged 5–18 who would like support to deal with an issue that is affecting their emotional wellbeing or placing them at risk across 18 locations in the UK between September 2011 and March 2015.

The service is intended to prevent escalation of difficulties that these children may be experiencing to a level that could require more intensive, but less readily available services or support. Young people could access the service by referring themselves or through referral from an agency with their consent.

At the end of the pilot, it was found that just under 60% of children showed a reliable improvement in levels of wellbeing. Of the children who were most in need at beginning the service - those with clinical levels of distress - 70 per cent showed reliable improvement and ended the service with normal levels of wellbeing.

Equally, three months after finishing their last Face to Face session, 84% of children were still reporting increased levels of well-being in what lead author Prakash Fernandes described as “very promising”.

“In the absence of a comparison group, it is not possible to attribute the changes reported by children and young people directly to the Face to Face service,” he added. “However, these evaluation findings demonstrate the potential of the Face to Face service to increase the emotional wellbeing of children and young people who are at risk to a level where they no longer require any further therapeutic support. These findings are very promising, especially as it might be expected that the difficulties of children in care and those on the edge of care would be entrenched and therefore not show much change during the relatively brief intervention period.

“The solution-focused approach was valued by children and young people, as it helped build rapport with the staff, make them feel better about themselves, and give them techniques for addressing future concerns. There is a gap in service provision to meet the emotional needs of children in care
and those on the edge of care but there is also potential for these children to benefit from a service model such as the Face to Face service.”

Other key findings included:
• 73% of children and young people said that Face to Face had helped them to solve the immediate concern that was affecting their emotional wellbeing.
• Children and young people said that the Face to Face service had helped by listening to them; being confidential; encouraging them to reflect on issues; focusing on their strengths; giving them control over the process, and by rehearsing strategies to solve their problems.
• Referrers and foster carers found the referral process easy and were able to see the changes in the young person.

To read the report in full visit