Children in care are being denied access to mental health services because their placement is seen as unstable, MPs have warned.
The education committee’s inquiry into the mental health of looked-after children found “a significant number” of councils were failing to identify mental health issues for children entering care and turning away young people for not meeting thresholds.
It was told “uncertainty” about placement stability meant Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) were “unwilling to begin therapeutic treatment until they can ensure that a child will be based in the same location for a significant period of time”.
Neil Carmichael, the committee’s chair, said the “inflexibility” put vulnerable children at a serious disadvantage in getting support.
A young woman told the inquiry she had waited for more than two-and-a-half years for CAMHS support but had been unable to access services because her placement had moved 13 times.
According to statutory guidance on promoting the health and wellbeing of looked-after children support should not be denied because of a child’s placement.
“Looked-after children should never be refused a service, including for mental health, on the grounds of their placement being short-term or unplanned,” the guidance said.
The committee said CAMHS should not refuse to see children and young people without a stable placement, or delay access to their services.
It also said that, upon entering care, all children should have a Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire completed and the government should amend statutory guidance to ensure this requirement is made clear.
“In addition, all looked-after children should have a full mental health assessment by a qualified mental health professional. Where required this should be followed by regular assessment of mental health and well-being as part of existing looked-after children reviews,” the report said.
Voice of child
The committee recommended children in care have access to CAMHS up to the age of 25, and that support for foster and residential carers should include training on mental health and emotional well-being.
Looked-after children should also play a meaningful part in the decisions made about their mental health care, the report said.
Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnardo’s, said some of the £1.4 billion being invested in CAMHS throughout this parliament should be earmarked for children in care.
“Every child should get the support they need for coping with a mental health issue, but services are stretched to the limit,” Khan said.ted during this Parliament should be earmarked to support children in care and care leavers with mental health needs.”
Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, said: “It is right that the committee has put a spotlight on the mental health needs of children in care who are likely to have not only experienced real difficulties and sometimes trauma in their lives but also unlike most of us, don’t have their family to fall back on for support.
“Many children who are in care tell me that they need better access to help with their mental health and offering each one a mental health assessment when they come into care would help in identifying the support they need.”