A National Disgrace

Author: TACT

Tags: Policy and Campaigning

Date: 18th August 2016

The House of Commons Education Committee Report:
Mental health and well-being of looked-after children,
Fourth Report of Session, 2015/16

Nearly half of all children and young people in care meet the criteria for a psychiatric disorder. This compares with just one in 10 of their non-looked after counterparts.

This stark stat opens the latest report, published on 28 April this year, from the Commons Education Committee following their 2015-16 session and inquiry into mental health services for looked after children.

We can be forgiven, service providers like TACT, for being less than surprised and more than a little angry that despite the scale of the problem, the report reveals children in care are still being denied help with mental health problems.

Children and young people in care already have trauma and difficulties over and above those experienced by the majority of their peers, like abuse, neglect, bereavement, disability or serious illness in one or both of their parents.

And of course when they come into care, they are more likely to suffer from placement instability.

Yet the Inquiry exposed, with compelling evidence, that CAMHS will not see a child or young person with poor mental health unless they have a stable placement.

One foster carer told the inquiry that a young person who came into her care had been waiting for CAMHS for two and a half years, but had been unable to access services because she had been moved 13 times during that period.

So there is a clear need for improvement, but against a backdrop of sharp cuts. The reduction in government support to local authorities has been the largest since 2012/13. Councils are currently half way through a scheduled 40 per cent cut in central government funding, and having delivered £10 billion of savings in the three years from 2011/12, local authorities have to find the same savings again in the next two years.

Councils in many areas will not have enough money to meet all their statutory responsibilities. So they have to find ways of doing more with less and find integrated and innovative ways of delivering preventative services.

At the same time, the government need to be shown the cost of not sorting this out.

A comparative case study shows how one child’s unstable and unsupported experience of care costs £22,415 more per year (including health, social care and criminal justice costs) than another child’s stable and well supported care journey.

This is because:

  • children in care and care leavers are more likely to experience poor health, education and social outcomes
  • young people leaving care are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers
  • they are more likely to enter the criminal justice system. 23% of adult prisoners have been in care and 40% of prisoners under 21.

Almost half the children in care have a mental health problem, yet so many cannot access the services they need because of placement instability is not just a tragedy, it is a national disgrace. Placement instability is not the fault of the child, it is the fault of the system and children must not be punished for it.

We at TACT fully support the report’s recommendations and argue that we need to go further. Britain needs an integrated service offer, bringing CAMHS and Children’s Social Care together into one unified service.

That we way we could focus on meeting the mental health needs of an already hugely disadvantaged group of children, greatly improving their chances of a happy and healthy  life.

Jasmine Ali
Senior Policy and Research Advisor