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Mental health assessments for children in care


Claire TylerMental health assessments for children entering care will now be piloted, following work by our Chair, Baroness Claire Tyler, to provide a more holistic assessment of their wellbeing. The announcement was made by Education Minister Lord Nash in response to Baroness Tyler’s calls for their inclusion in the Children and Social Work Bill. She had argued that, as a corporate parent, the Government should have a duty to assess and promote mental health and emotional wellbeing for looked after children.


Local authorities already provide physical health assessments, but Baroness Tyler proposed that the addition of mental health assessments could promote better placement stability. She urged that such assessments would more fully support the range and particular needs of these children. “The vast majority of children entering care do so in the first place for reasons of neglect or abuse, which we all know has huge detrimental impact on their emotional health and wellbeing.


“According to ONS data, children in care are four times more likely than their peers to have a mental health difficulty and at least 45% of children entering care have a diagnosable mental health condition. This is a figure that rises to a truly alarming 72% for children entering residential care. In light of this, I thought it was scandalous that the current standard health tests undertaken when a child enters the care system do not cover mental health.”


Baroness Tyler’s proposal received public support from the NSPCC, the Alliance for Children in Care and the Royal Colleges of Psychiatrists, Nursing and Paediatrics and Child Health. They commented on the positive potential for early assessments to identify and tackle issues before they spiral into bigger problems, noting the damaging effects of looked after children’s formative family experiences.


This was not the first time calls had been made for the introduction of such assessments. Baroness Tyler noted that the recommendation had been made in April by the Education Select Committee’s report, ‘Mental Health and Well-being of Looked After Children’. This found that “a significant number [of local authorities] are failing to identify mental health issues when children enter care and services are turning away vulnerable young people for not meeting diagnostic thresholds or being without a stable placement. The Government initially opted to establish an expert working group in May 2017 to consider the issues while developing care pathways for children with mental health problems. However, as the group is not due to report until October 2017, Baroness Tyler urged more immediate action.


Baroness Tyler welcomed the news that pilot assessments will now be developed and introduced, to run alongside the work of the expert group. Pilots will begin in April 2017 in up to ten local areas. They will trial different approaches with certain age groups, integrating mental health assessments with the existing physical health assessments. This will be for both children entering residential care, who tend to be the most in need, and those entering foster care.


Commenting on what this headway will mean for looked after children, Baroness Tyler said: “This certainly is an important step forward in helping some of the most vulnerable young people in our society. Provision of mental health assessments and support should help improve their current experiences and secure better outcomes in their futures. I’m hopeful that once these pilots show what a positive impact this has, it will not be long before they are rolled out more widely.


“The pilots also represent a significant move towards a parity of esteem between mental and physical health services. While it is an encouraging move, there remains great disparities between the two more widely. It is important that we seek to address both issues in the funding of mental health services as well as orchestrating a change in the culture surrounding mental health issues.”

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