Social care regulators Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) have called on the Government to make it mandatory for mental health services to collect data on children whose parents or carers have mental health problems and report on such data nationally.

The regulators’ report, What about the children?, highlights how the lack of identification of children living with parents with mental ill health has led to them not receiving the help they need with some being left at risk of harm. Inspectors also found that this lack of identification meant there was poor joint working between children’s social care and adult mental health services.

Currently, it is a mandatory requirement for adult services to gather information about children and report to the National Treatment Agency for Substance Abuse where their parents have drug and/or alcohol problems. However, this is not the case for children whose parents have serious mental health difficulties.

This means that children of parents with mental health problems are poorly supported and protected compared to those whose parents have substance abuse problems, the report said.

Analyses by Ofsted of serious case reviews between 2007 and 2011 where children had either died or been seriously harmed showed that mental health difficulties, drug and alcohol problems and domestic abuse were the most common characteristics of the families involved.

It is estimated that at any one time as many as 9 million adults – 1 in 6 of the population – experience mental ill health. Data is not collected nationally about how many of the adults receiving specialised mental health services are parents or carers, but it is estimated that 30% of adults with mental ill health have dependent children.

Deputy social care director for Ofsted, Sally Rowe, said: “This report raises some significant concerns for children who are living in very difficult and vulnerable situations. If children living with parents with mental health problems are to receive the right support and protection then the same level of scrutiny should be applied as those whose parents have issues with substance abuse. That is why we believe it should be a mandatory requirement for this data to be collected to ensure local agencies are focused on the needs of these children.”

Philip King, director for regulatory development at the CQC, said: “Adult mental health services and drug and substance misuse services play an important role in child protection. The point of our joint work is not to question the parenting ability of people with mental health problems, many lead perfectly ordinary family lives. However, information from some notable serious case reviews highlight the fact that some parents and their children need additional support due to the effects that mental illness can have on families. In these circumstances identification and early help is key, and this is what we have identified as the issue.”

The full report is available at