When we hear that a child has suffered a traumatic experience our first concern, instinctively as a human being, is for their emotional wellbeing. How have they been effected by the experience? How can we help them move on? Will they be ok in the long run?
The events that lead to children being taken into care are regularly traumatic with obvious implications for their emotional wellbeing. Over half of looked after children in England enter care due to abuse or neglect, and as a group they are more likely than their peers to have experienced the death of a parent or sibling, and nearly a quarter of those aged 11-17 report having experienced some kind of sexual abuse.
Even for looked after children who have not had such experiences, emotional wellbeing will remain an important consideration in meeting their complex needs, often far away from home.
It is not a surprise, nor should it be, that children in care are around five times more likely than their peers to experience mental ill health.
How can we change this? Carers should be offered more training to support the day to day wellbeing of their children; there should be accountability for the impact that placement decisions have on children’s relationships and emotional development; and when children need specialist mental health support, this should be readily available.
In England health and social care services are organisationally separated, and children are losing out because of this
￼￼The Care Quality Commission Education Select Committee report on the health of children in care 'Not seen, not heard'￼, however, highlights evidence that this is not happening. They highlight cases of children not being able to access treatment after a placement move because of arguments over who should pay, children’s mental health needs being inadequately and inconsistently assessed on entering care, and designated doctors and nurses, who are expected to drive partnership working for this group not being given the time, authority and resources to do their job properly.
Today the House of Lords will be debating government proposals aimed at improving support for children in care. It was encouraging to see that the Government have recently conceded that, as corporate parents, local authorities need to consider children’s mental as well as physical health. But we need clear expectations on local authorities and the NHS so that this makes a difference in children’s lives. That’s why we at NCB, as part of the Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers, are calling for this to be rectified. We are want to see a duty to be placed on local authorities and their counterparts in the NHS to promote the physical and mental health and emotional wellbeing, a clear entitlement to mental health assessment, and designated doctors and nurses to be given the status they need to lead improvements locally.
There is a clear need for emotional wellbeing and mental health to take centre stage in the state’s support for children who cannot stay with their parents. This means local authorities raising their game in working together to deliver the right services for children in care, and our lawmakers making clear that this should be a priority. The Children and Social Work Bill is the ideal opportunity to take this step towards better outcomes for some of the most vulnerable children in our society.