Skip to main content

Mental health and well-being of looked-after children

1. The mental health of looked-after children is significantly poorer than that of their peers, with almost half of children and young people in care meeting the criteria
for a psychiatric disorder. In comparison one in ten non-looked-after children and young people suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder. In November 2014, the Health Committee published a report on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). The report revealed problems throughout the system from early intervention to the transition to adult services. The Committee concluded that “there are serious and deeply ingrained problems with the commissioning and provision” of CAMHS.

2. Since the publication of the Health Committee’s report the Department of Health (DH) and the Department for Education (DfE) have published new statutory guidance on Promoting the health and well-being of looked-after children. On the same day the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Taskforce released their report Future in Mind. Both of these publications are part of a wider focus on mental health by the Government, most recently demonstrated through the commissioning of a report by the independent Mental Health Taskforce, The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. The Government has stated that it will invest £1.4 billion in children and young people’s mental health services over the course of the Parliament.

3. Children in care and care leavers are more likely to experience poor health, educational and social outcomes. Young people leaving care in the UK are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. They are also more likely to enter the criminal justice system. 23% of adult prisoners have been in care, and 40% of prisoners under 21. Research by Loughborough University and the NSPCC suggested that the consequences of a lack of support for looked-after children’s mental health and well-being can be more expensive than investing in specialist services. Their analysis showed that:

One child’s unstable and unsupported experience of care cost £22,415 more
per year (including health, social care and criminal justice costs) than another
child’s stable and well supported care journey.

4. The work of the Health Committee, and subsequent Government commitments on mental health prompted us to conduct an inquiry focusing specifically on looked-after children.

5. We launched our inquiry on 18 September 2015 with a call for written evidence in respect of the following issues:

• Whether the Department for Education and Department of Health guidance on Promoting the health and well-being of looked-after children published in March 2015
is sufficient to ensure that mental health and well-being are prioritised for children in care and care leavers;

• The extent to which the aims articulated in the guidance are being implemented at a local level;

• The extent and quality of dedicated mental health and well-being services provided for looked-after children and care leavers, including training and support for carers and social workers;

• The level of coordination between relevant elements of the education system, the care system and the health system in supporting the mental health and well-being of looked-after children and care leavers, and how this can be improved;

• The contribution that schools make to supporting the mental health and well-being of looked-after children alongside services such as CAMHS;

• How young people and their carers can be more involved in designing mental health and well-being services for looked-after children, including when making the transition to adult services when leaving care.