young mental healthLooked after children are approximately four times more likely to have a mental disorder than children living in their birth families yet a quarter of local authorities published strategies make very limited or no mention of looked after children’s mental health according to new NSPCC research.

Around half of children in care in England and Wales have a diagnosable mental health disorder and one child’s unstable and unsupported experience of care cost £22,415 according to new analysis

The report, ‘Achieving emotional wellbeing for looked after children’ explores the causes of poor mental health among looked after children and considers how services in local areas can work together to promote good emotional wellbeing for looked after children.

Analysis by Loughborough University presented in the report suggests that a lack of support for looked after children’s emotional wellbeing – and allowing children’s placements to break down - could be more expensive than providing specialist support to prevent placement breakdowns. It calculates that a child who experienced nine placements had received a package of specialist support to keep his placement stable, this could have saved an estimated £67,851 over 11 years.

Report author Louise Bazalgette said: “Health and social care commissioners should consider how they can make more cost-effective local spending decisions that support improved placement stability and better mental health outcomes for looked after children.

“This report highlights that too often the emotional wellbeing and mental health of looked after children is thought of as something that is the responsibility of specialist mental health services alone. This must not be the case; we need a whole system that prioritises the emotional wellbeing of children in care, across social care and health.”

Very little emphasis on mental health
In addition to identifying the lack of planning for mental health issues in care, the report also highlighted inconsistencies in provision such as Children’s Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaires (SDQs), 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.

The 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 with Bazalgette suggesting that instead, “services are often responsive to crisis rather than intervening early to prevent problems from escalating”.

Based on the fieldwork and research for this project, the NSPCC and its local authority partners identified five priorities for change, which would improve support for the emotional wellbeing of children in care:
• Embed an emphasis on emotional wellbeing throughout the system
• Take a proactive and preventative approach
• Give children and young people voice and influence
• Support and sustaining children’s relationships
• Support care leavers’ emotional needs

To read the report in full visit