Cafcass chief moots virtual health centres for looked-after children

Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas is calling for the creation of virtual centres in every area to monitor the physical and mental health of looked-after children.

The family court body head said such virtual health centres would be based on the model of virtual headteachers, under which a single individual takes responsibility for the educational welfare and achievement of children in care across an area.

Douglas said the idea was sparked by an event held in February in which Cafcass canvassed the views of a group of looked-after children on their health and well-being.

Stress and reluctance to see professionals

A report on the event, released this week, said that more than a third of the young people felt their health was only average, a large number said they had experienced stress and very few chose to see health professionals to discuss sexual health concerns.

Douglas said the health needs of children in care were often invisible, citing young people with behavioural problems who had unrecognised mental health needs and those going through placement instability who lacked consistent medical care, leading to problems going undiagnosed.

He said the virtual centres he had in mind would consist of a single professional or a small team, who would monitor the health needs of looked-after children and their access to services, including mental healthcare.

Discussions underway

Douglas said he had already started discussions with civil servants and NHS leaders about the creation of virtual health centres and would also hold talks with the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.

Though the Department for Children, Schools and Families has launched pilots of virtual headteachers in 11 areas, Douglas said that virtual health centres could be initiated locally.

He said he did not know of any examples across England but said he was keen to hear of any existing work in this area. Email him at with any existing practice examples.

Related articles

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Keith Morrison at Medway Council is one of the country’s first virtual headteachers

Putting Care Matters into practice for looked-after children

The importance of education for children in care

Expert guide to services for children in care


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