Healthy futures: Supporting and promoting the health needs of looked after children
All children have health needs, and local authorities now have a major role in meeting these. But looked after children and young people have higher levels of health needs than their peers, and these are often met less successfully – leading to poorer outcomes. In particular, they have significantly more prevalent and more serious emotional and mental health needs (mainly because of the frequency with which these children enter care with problems arising from poverty, abuse, neglect, or trauma from other family circumstances).
This does not mean that every child or young person who is looked after has greater needs. But practitioners providing services to children and young people, and
to families with children, should be aware of the increased likelihood that this might be so. And ‘the system’ must be able to identify those individuals whose needs are greater and to provide the support they need, both in a timely manner. Getting this right can change lives.Local authorities have a twofold responsibility for looked after children: their corporate parenting role; and their public health role, which applies across the whole community, but requires particular consideration in respect of looked after children and young people.
There are around 70,000 looked after children in England, according to government statistics, the majority (60 per cent) of whom become looked after due to abuse or neglect; most (75 per cent) are placed with foster carers. Fifty-six per cent of placements (38 per cent of foster placements) are outside the placing local authority’s boundary; 18 per cent (14 per cent of foster placements) are over 20 miles from the child’s home. The relevance of these statistics will become apparent below.
The following sections cover some key statistics on the main additional health needs looked after children and young people experience; some underlying themes and key messages; local councils responsibilities and some questions for members to raise locally.
In recognition of the work that is already underway in many local areas, there are seven case studies of positive initiatives in local authorities around the country. These provide a useful starting point for local councils to take practical action in their own areas.