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Looked-after children's mental health needs ignored

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are failing the most vulnerable young people, according to a House of Commons education committee

Children and teenagers in care are having their mental health needs neglected, according to a government report.

The House of Commons education committee found that many health services and local authorities are failing to identify children’s mental health needs when they enter care.

Their report, Mental Health and Well-being of Looked-after Children, published today (April 28), calls for looked-after children to be given priority access to specialist mental health assessments, with subsequent treatment based on their clinical needs.

The committee found Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are turning away children because they do not meet high treatment thresholds. And children are being rejected – against statutory guidance – because they have moved placement, often in the same local authority.

Looked-after children are four times more likely than other children to have a mental health condition, and almost half of children in care have a diagnosable mental health disorder.

The RCN is among 58 organisations that submitted written evidence to the committee during its investigation process.

The college expressed concern about ‘a postcode lottery in respect of dedicated CAMHS for looked-after children’ and cited a 7% drop in mental health nursing staff since 2010 in the face of increasing demand for the service.

RCN professional lead for children and young people’s nursing Fiona Smith said: ‘Too many children are not getting the help they need and the longer they have to wait, the more likely their conditions will continue into adulthood.’

Education committee chair Neil Carmichael said: ‘Given children in care may have unstable family lives and are frequently moving foster or residential placement, such inflexibility puts them at a serious disadvantage in getting the support they deserve. This must change.’

Young people leaving care in the UK are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. They are also more likely to enter the criminal justice system.

The committee recommends:

  • CAMHS should form a part of a multi-agency team in which education, health and social care work in partnership, and each local area should employ a senior mental health professional to co-ordinate these services.
  • Care leavers should be able to access CAMHS up until the age of 25 (rather than 18).
  • Young people should be included in planning the services they need.

To read the report click here

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