Improving the mental health and emotional wellbeing of looked-after children: Can you help make a difference?

Featured article - 21 June 2016
By Alison O'Sullivan, Co-chair of the looked-after children and mental health expert group

Head-shot of the author, Alison O'Sullivan, Co-chair of the looked-after children and mental health expert group

Earlier this year I conducted a light touch paper review of all of the children placed out of area from my authority. Looking at the stories served as a pointed reminder of the trauma, neglect and abuse that so many children have experienced and the importance of helping them navigate the challenges they face, build resilience and develop their full potential.

But these stories also revealed how difficult it was for children in care and their carers to get the help that was needed. This simple exercise really spurred me on to want to do something which would make a difference.

This is not a problem that we can ignore – last year 69,540 children were looked after by local authorities in England. However, many children and young people in care are experiencing barriers at the very first hurdle, and fail to receive support that both recognises their particular vulnerabilities and is flexible enough to respond in a way that children and young people themselves want.

An ambitious project is now underway to ensure that, in the future, the mental health and emotional wellbeing needs of children in care and care leavers are better met. Ministers have set up an Expert Group to lead this work – and I am one of the co-chairs of the Expert Group along with Professor Peter Fonagy of the psychoanalysis unit at University College London.

This project and the work of the Expert Group creates a once in a generation opportunity to make a difference for this most vulnerable group of young people.

Through the work of the expert Expert Group we can describe what help should be available and when to children and young people in care and care leavers with mental health needs, and capture best practice. We can describe models of care and help professionals to be confident about what works. And we can equip young people themselves and their carers to know how best to press for the help they need.

To do this well we need the voice of people with direct and frontline experience to guide our thinking.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) (who are managing this project) are currently recruiting frontline professionals to the Expert Group. If you can help please apply!

More information

We are looking for foster carers, CAMHS practitioners, children’s home workers, social workers and designated nurses who have relevant and up to date experience of working with children and young people in care and care leavers The closing date is 27th June at 5pm–

"If we can get it right for the most vulnerable, such as Looked After Children and Care leavers, then it is more likely we will get it right for all those in need." Future in Mind report

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