Children in care's mental health needs can be met - Grace Trevelyan in our research team looks at the steps needed.
We have known for some time that the children who are looked after within our care system are at far greater risk of experiencing poor mental health than children who live with their birth families.
In fact, they are four times more likely to have a diagnosed mental health disorder than children in the general population.
The case studies featured in a new NSPCC report bring this stark statistic, and its consequences, to life. Stories such as those belonging to 16 year old Joe highlight an all too familiar state of affairs; one where emotional distress becomes both a cause and a symptom of placement instability and proliferating needs.
However, rather than merely describing a disjointed system that inflicts further emotional harm on already traumatised young people as a fait accompli, this report takes an important step forward by asking how care could be redesigned to promote positive mental health and setting out a vision for a care system where emotional wellbeing is prioritised, the key features of which are highlighted below.
Five priorities for change
- Embed an emphasis on emotional wellbeing throughout the system
Professionals working in the care system need the skills and knowledge to understand how they can support the emotional wellbeing of looked after children and young people.
- Take a proactive and preventative approach
Support for looked after children should begin with a thorough assessment of their emotional and mental health needs.
- Give children and young people voice and influence
Looked after children and young people need more opportunities to identify what is important to them and influence their own care.
- Support and sustain children’s relationships
Children’s carers require training and support to be sensitive, understanding and resilient.
- Support care leavers’ emotional needs
Help young people identify and strengthen their support networks.
Here at NCB’s research centre we are extremely pleased to note how strongly the NSPCC’s priorities for change chime with the findings of much of our own research:
- The importance of equipping ALL professionals working with children and young people with the skills and knowledge about emotional wellbeing emerged strongly from our work on the MindEd e-learning portal.
- Giving young people a chance to influence their own care is the key principle which underscores NCB’s work on the ‘Taking it to the Next Level’ project which works with corporate parents and Children in Care Councils. Our evaluation of this project can be found here.
- Our research into the skills and qualifications of the staff in children’s homes, meanwhile, strongly reinforces the need for carers to receive training that supports them to be sensitive, understanding and resilient.
- We welcome, in particular, the focus on strengthening the support networks around young people as they leave care. The need for ongoing emotional support as children exit the care system is a key finding of our research into the Prince’s Trust From Care to Independence Programme.
Overall, we are inspired by this vision as it is set out by the NSPCC. It feels like an important step towards establishing a greater focus on recovery within the care system, which NCB recently called for along with other leading children’s charities as part of the Alliance for Children in Care.
Click here to download Achieving Emotional Wellbeing for Looked after Children: A Whole System Approach