In care, out of mind

Given the circumstances in which many children come into care – 62
per cent after abuse or neglect, for example – it is not surprising
that they are particularly vulnerable to mental health

Hence, the inadequacy of the professional response – exposed this
week in research by the Mental Health Foundation – is

Mental health services for all young people are inadequate. In many
cases parents must struggle to get any help for their child.
Without parents to fight for them, children in care suffer more
acutely, with less support and for longer. It seems their
“corporate parents” in the local authority – in this as in so many
other things – do not act as they would on behalf of their own

Indeed, a report from the Social Services Inspectorate this week
shows that nearly a third of looked-after children are still not
receiving all their health checks. The MHF study shows that mental
health problems are easily missed even when the checks are done,
because professionals are not trained to recognise them. Social
care workers know all too well that children with mental health
problems are likely to be labelled as difficult, rather than
treated with sympathy – another risk that must be even greater for
children in care.

Children in care need people to confide in, who are encouraged and
trained to spot mental health problems early. It is important to
avoid stigmatising young people who are already vulnerable. But
this must not lead workers to delay referral to specialist services
that could help. Furthermore, there should be a fast-track system
to speed up referrals and make referral by social workers

Rather than having even less attention paid to their mental health
than other children, children in care must have more.

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