Local authorities failing to identify mental health issues when children enter care

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The education committee have published a report entitled ‘Mental health and well-being of looked after children’ that has highlighted the need for local authorities and health services to recognise when children in care are suffering with mental health issues.

In 2015 statutory guidance was published by the Department for Education and the Department of Health on ‘Promoting the health and well-being of looked-after children’. This recognised that almost half of children in care have a diagnosable mental health disorder. The figures for children in care mean they are four times more likely to suffer from mental health issues than their classmates and five times more likely to commit suicide. However, despite these high statistics children in care face significant challenges when accessing care for these issues. The report finds child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) requests thresholds that are too high or are refused because their placement is not stable, meaning vulnerable children are not able to access treatment.

Despite the reality, statutory guidance from the 2015 report is insistent that looked-after children should never be refused a service on the grounds of their placement. Therefore, the report recommends that looked after children are prioritised and that care leavers should be able to access CAMHS up until the age of 25. The report also includes recommendations that initial assessments of those entering care should be more thorough and consistent to avoid children slipping through the net.

Neil Carmichael, Chair of the Education Committee, said in a statement: ‘It’s clear that many looked-after children in England are not getting the mental health support they need. At present, CAMHS are not assessing or treating children in care because these children do not have a stable placement.. This inflexibility puts vulnerable children in care at a serious disadvantage in getting the support they deserve. This must change. We recommend children in care be given priority access to mental health assessments and never refused care based on their placement or severity of their condition.’

To read the full report, please check the document on Family Law’s website.

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