Most children come into care because they have experienced abuse and neglect. For too many, the care system does not provide the support they need to heal from this trauma. By failing to provide the nurturing, affirmation and stability needed for children to heal and thrive, the care system itself can compound the adverse emotional legacy of pre-care experiences.
Assessments of children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing as they enter care are inconsistent and often fail to identify those who require specialist care and support. Initial assessments are rarely completed by qualified mental health professionals, so signs of significant mental health difficulties caused by pre-care trauma can be missed. We welcome the mental health assessment pilots although it’s a shame the findings won’t be available until mid-2020.
Far too many looked-after young people are turned away from CAMHS because they don’t meet the threshold for treatment, which is generally unacceptably high with 1 in 3 referred children being turned away. Budget cuts to CAMHS in recent years mean that many specialist teams offering targeted support for looked-after children have been abolished, resulting in the loss of important expertise.
Furthermore, children in care find it particularly difficult to access CAMHS support, as a placement move can send them straight to the back of the queue in a different catchment area. The struggle for treatment exacerbates trauma and puts additional stress on the young person and their carers.
The emotional wellbeing and mental health of children in care should not be thought of as the sole preserve of specialist mental health services. It’s vital that all carers and professionals working in the care system have the right skills, knowledge and training to support the emotional wellbeing of looked after children and young people. Foster carers and key workers in children’s homes have a particularly vital role to play, as primary carers.