Politicians are calling for senior mental health experts to be put in charge of ensuring ‘looked-after’ children with mental health issues get the support they need.
A new Health Education select committee report Mental health and well-being of looked-after children said children in care are missing out on mental health support, often because they move about, although nearly half of them have mental health needs, compared with one-in-ten children who are not in care.
Children leaving care are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers, said the committee.
The government is spending £1.4 billion on mental health services for children and young people during the course of this parliament.
The committee said: “We believe that looked-after children should be viewed as a priority for access to mental health assessments and never refused care based on their placement or severity of their condition.”
Its report found that “provision for looked after children with mental health concerns is poor in many areas across England”.
Some local authorities are offering integrated services with a strong emphasis of multi-agency work and support for foster carers and school staff.
“However, a significant number are failing to identify mental health issues when children enter care and services are turning away vulnerable young people for not meeting diagnostic thresholds or being without a stable placement.”
The committee considered if promoting the health and well-being of looked-after children guidance from the Departments of Health and Department for Education went far enough to ensure children in care were a priority for mental health and well-being support.
Ofsted told the inquiry that many local authorities do not carry out initial health assessments of children entering care within the set time.
The committee visited an integrated service at Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council in the north west of England.
It also heard from Essex County Council which told the committee: “Part of our system is having a specialist mental health professional that can provide pathways, the evidence base and bringing that together across social care, health and education.”
The committee called for health and well-being boards to provide strong leadership to integrate services for children, with “strategic oversight” of commissioning.