Mental health services fail to reach looked after children


Looked after children have trouble accessing mental health services
even though they are particularly vulnerable to mental health
problems, according to a new report, writes Katie

A lack of advocacy and no person to confide in can stop looked
after children from receiving 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 after.

The report by the Mental Health Foundation says there are
significant hurdles to receiving help from child and adolescent
mental health services, and calls for a change to the referral
process so that looked after children can access services more

“Even if a young person has someone to turn to or someone spots
that they are having difficulties, then many still have to see a
sympathetic GP before they can be referred to specialist

“Then, assuming they do get onto a CAMHS (child and adolescent
mental health services) 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

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.

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 choice”.
It also suggests that child protection staff 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 who are
experienced in the mental health of looked after children.

A summary of the ‘The Mental Health Needs of Looked After
Children’ can be downloaded by clicking here

A full copy of the report is available under ‘what’s new’ at

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