Looked-after children have trouble obtaining mental health services
even though they are particularly vulnerable to mental health
problems, according to a report by the Mental Health
A lack of advocacy and having no-one to confide in can stop
looked-after children from getting the support they need. And
physical and mental health problems can easily be missed in those
who are moved several times while they are being looked
The report says there are significant hurdles to receiving help
from child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), and calls
for a change to the referral process so that looked-after children
can access services more easily.
“Even if the young person can get onto a CAMHS waiting list, they
may well have moved to a different foster or residential placement,
or even out of local authority care by the time their appointment
comes up,” it states.
Ruth Lesirge, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said
that a different way of working is needed. “We need to consider a
fast-track referral system for looked-after children so that access
to mental health services is not necessarily via GPs but also via
staff in other agencies. In some areas, social workers are able to
refer looked-after young people directly to child and adolescent
mental health services,” she said.
The report recommends that a central CAMHS database should be set
up “as a matter of urgency” so that it is clear what services are
available and where, and that a review of CAMHS is carried out to
ensure that services become more needs-led.
The report claims that a proper system of early mental health
intervention for looked-after children and young people is needed,
which also includes those who have been adopted.
Social workers should ensure that all young people are registered
with a GP within 24 hours of placement and health care records
should stay with the young person while they are being looked
after, even when they move placements. The uptake and delivery of
annual medical assessments must improve, and services should be
delivered in a “more sensitive, age-appropriate way that promotes
It also suggests staff in all agencies who work with looked-after
children should have specialist mental health training, and that
mental health services should offer regular advice and consultation
sessions locally to social workers, teachers and foster carers.
Each local authority should have access to two designated doctors
and nurses experienced in the mental health of looked-after
– The Mental Health Needs of Looked-After Children from www.mentalhealth.org.uk