Who Cares? Trust chief urges therapy for looked-after children

All children in care should have access to regular therapy and be psychologically assessed at the earliest opportunity, the chief executive of The Who Cares? Trust has said.

Natasha Finlayson, who heads the looked-after children’s charity, made the comments at a Community Care conference this week on improving outcomes for children in care.

Speaking to Community Care after the event, she said: “The experiences that children in care have been through cannot but psychologically scar them. Yet only the most extreme or easily identifiable problems are noticed and treated.”

15% receive Camhs support

Figures published on Durham University’s children’s services mapping website, which collects information on services, show 9339 looked-after children were receiving support from specialist children and adolescent mental health teams in England in 2007-8.

This compares to an overall looked-after population of 59,500 at 31 March 2008, suggesting just over 15% were receiving specialist support. However, 2002 research for the Department of Health found 45% of looked-after children in England were assessed as having a mental health disorder.

Finlayson said: “All children should be psychologically assessed upon entering care. Even those without obvious psychological problems would benefit; therapy would help them to deal with the transitory nature of the care system and any further rejection they might experience.”

Burden on proof on services

Finlayson said it should be up to mental health services to demonstrate why looked-after children should not need therapy, rather than for children to prove why they should.

She added: “From talking to young people we have a sense that there is still a long way to go. We are seriously concerned and will soon be commissioning research on this.”

In May, the government produced revised guidance on promoting the health and well-being of looked-after children for consultation

This said Camhs services were increasingly providing designated services for looked-after children, but that there was variability on access to services, with some having an age cut-off of 16 and others of 25.

Dedicated provision

The draft guidance called for primary care trusts to ensure Camhs services provide dedicated provision for looked-after children where a local need is identified; children are never refused a service if their placement is short-term or unplanned; and referral pathways are understood by all agencies.

It also proposed the appointment of designated lead health professionals for looked-after children, who would be responsible for ensuring assessments are undertaken and co-ordinating health action plans.

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More information

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