Today the Social Care Institute for Excellence launched its Improving Mental Health Support for our Children and Young People report, which comprises the findings and recommendations of an expert working group established by the Department of Health and the Department for Education in England.
Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network and a member of the expert working group, said: ‘Half of all looked after children have a diagnosable mental health disorder and five times as many children in care have low subjective wellbeing compared to children in the general population; the issue of transforming the mental health of looked after children could not be more urgent. Three-quarters of looked after children live with foster carers, so any such transformation must have foster carers and fostering at its centre.
‘There is much in this report to be commended and we hope that the recommendations will be taken forward with energy and urgency. We must prioritise the consistency of the quality of assessment and support children in care receive to meet their mental health needs.
‘The introduction of a virtual mental health lead (VMHL) can play an important part in making this happen, ensuring every child in the system is getting the support they need for their mental health and emotional wellbeing. The report recommends that this is a health-based post and while we understand the need for this role to challenge health professionals, it is essential that the postholder is able to work across all organisations especially local authorities. As well as helping looked after children get consistent access to mental health services, the VMHL must also play a strategic in monitoring outcomes for looked after children.
‘The report highlights that carers often feel they cannot get the support they need for their child or young person due to high thresholds or being excluded from vital meetings. Foster carers are a key member of the team around the child and often the one who know and understands them best. Yet we find they are too often excluded from important meetings and their views are not sought. Foster carers must be recognised and valued as the experts who best know the children they care for; their views must always be invited and take into consideration.
'As well as the mental health and wellbeing of fostered children, at The Fostering Network we are passionate about ensuring that foster carers are also given appropriate support for their own mental health and wellbeing. We are pleased to see this properly recognised within the report as caring for the carers is essential in caring for children and young people.
‘We welcome the forthcoming Green Paper on looked after children and young people’s mental health in England. This will be an excellent opportunity for the Westminster Government to set out its stall as one which takes the mental health and wellbeing of looked after children extremely seriously, to fulfil the report’s recommendations and to provide the additional investment so desperately needed to improve mental health services.’