Transforming mental health support for our children and young people.

06 November 2017

Report launch at the House of Lords this afternoon

There are moves today to improve how the emotional wellbeing and mental health needs are met for children and young people in care*.

*This includes kinship care, special guardianship orders, those adopted or care leavers.

A report, ‘Improving mental health support for our children and young people’ makes a number of recommendations that have been drawn up by an expert working group, with support from the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE). The expert group has included looked after young people who have lived-experienced of the care system, the social care system, education and mental health support, as well as professionals from the health, social care, academic and voluntary sectors.

The report is published by SCIE, who were commissioned by the Department of Health and Department for Education to run the project. The report, which has been presented to the Departments, will be a launched at an event at the House of Lords this afternoon.

Among the recommendations are:

Building on the success of the virtual school head (VSH), a similar oversight role of a virtual mental health lead (VMHL) should be established. The aim of the role, if adopted, would be to ensure that every child and young person in the system gets the support they need for their mental health and emotional wellbeing.

‘Strengths and difficulties’ questionnaires – the current statutory assessment tool - should be supported by a broader set of measures which can trigger a comprehensive mental health assessment.

Formal services should be more flexible in who they will allow to support the young person, acknowledging that support can come from a range of services and places.

Adoptive parents, foster carers and other caregivers should receive support for their own mental health and wellbeing.

Expert working group and co-production

The expert working group has embraced co-production. Co-production occurs when people who use services and those looking at changing the services work together. It is central to the work of the expert group on this project, with young people who use or have used services being central to the work.

The expert working group has been co-chaired by Peter Fonagy (Director, UCL Partners Integrated Mental Health Programme) and Dame Christine Lenehan (Council for Disabled Children) and combines the knowledge of experienced professionals from the health, social care, academic and voluntary sectors, along with young people, together with the SCIE project team. In addition, SCIE has also spoken to 100 children and young people and 100 adult practitioners.

The group have agreed on the following things that should happen now:

  • A new model. Information and advice about services to meet different needs and preferences
  • New pathways, which enable young people and care givers to know how to access support and who should be involved in decision-making.

At the core of the model and pathways: the need for timely intervention and support; a system that can be activated by anyone within the child or young person’s network; a recognition that mental health is a continuum and needs ongoing support; and support that is responsive to the young person’s needs.

Key findings

A needs-based model, allowing a child to be placed at the centre of decision-making, is seen by frontline professionals as the best way to support and respond to young people.

Young people’s journeys are not linear or ‘one size fits all’ and neither are their needs. Both young people and front line professionals expressed a frustration when there is this lack of flexibility.

Initial and continuing assessment of mental health status is essential for monitoring and meeting needs. Mental Health is a continuum.

Whole-system working – social care, health and mental health, education and other partners need to work collaboratively, in a multi-disciplinary approach to ensure looked after children and their caregivers receive support and recognition from all the services they’re in contact with. The new Virtual Mental Health Lead should be able to develop strong multi-agency relationships in particular health, education and social care services.

Young people’s website

As well as the report launched today, SCIE is launching a new website for young people to use. Based on the expert working group young people’s recommendations, young people can hover or click on an icon to discover something about looked after children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Examples are: ‘Don’t judge us’, ‘Let young people be involved in decision-making’ and ‘Give young people space and time to think about their issues’. A lot of the issues discussed over the course of the project are reflected here through young people’s films, photographs and text.

Being in care is like living in a fish bowl because you have to repeat the same story over and over again to different professionals. Everyone can see what’s going on and pass judgement but we’re all different. Don’t treat us like we’re just blowing bubbles.

Young person talking in the ‘Don’t judge us’ section of the young people’s website.

SCIE’s chief executive Tony Hunter says:

The mental health of adults and children has been an increasingly high-profile issue in recent times. Yet the mental wellbeing of looked after children hasn’t always had the same focus. So our recommendations today are timely, especially as co-productive approaches have been used to fully involve young people in drawing up highly relevant and considered ways forward. Let’s hope the report and its recommendations will go a long way to improving the wellbeing and mental health of looked after children and young people.

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