Our failing mental health system needs to improve by advocating on behalf of care-experienced children and young people. The aim of our nation’s mental health service for care-experienced young people should be to support them through crucial watershed moments in their life. This could include entering adulthood, or addressing and processing trauma at the earliest opportunity to prevent further negative impacts on a child or young person’s wellbeing.
Overall, we believe that mental health support for children and young people in care should strive for childhoods that are full of positive experiences, love and the right support when they need it - not when it’s time for their number to be called.
Mental Health Support for Young People In Care: The Facts
At the moment, mental health support for young people is not meeting the standard required to effect real change. These stats below evidence a mental health system that is failing care experienced children and young people:
- Children in care are four times more likely to have a mental health difficulty, which in many cases is attributed to isolation and loneliness.
- An estimated three quarters of children raised in local authority residential homes meet the criteria for a psychiatric diagnosis.
- Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) make up less than 1% of the NHS budget.
- 50% of mental health problems (excluding dementia) start before 15 years of age, and 75% before 18.
- 9 out of 10 children who have been abused or neglected at a young age currently develop a mental health problem by the age of 18.
- 65% of young people who have a mental health need are not currently receiving any statutory service support.
- Stability can be vital to mental health, but in the last two years only 1 in 6 children in care experienced no change of home, school, or social worker.
Time to Make a Change
NYAS’ Looked After Minds campaign is calling on the Governments in England and Wales to take urgent action which prioritises the mental health and wellbeing of care-experienced children and young people.
Looked After Minds in Wales
In Wales, NYAS Cymru recommended to the Welsh Government that they ‘pause’ all transitions from CAMHS to adult mental health support during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was agreed, and correspondence was sent from the Welsh Government to Local Health Boards.
NYAS felt that this transition was a risky, and sometimes mismanaged, period even during pre-pandemic times. NYAS is delighted that this policy decision will protect the mental health of care-experienced children and young people in Wales, and ultimately, it could save lives.
Looked After Minds in England
We also responded to England’s Mental Health Act Reform consultation. In our response, NYAS highlighted the need to embed a model of opt-out advocacy within the law.
This would enable prompt and universal advocacy support for children and young people, allowing them to have their wishes and feelings heard with improved ease.
Many young people in care do not realise they are entitled to an advocate, which means they bottle all of their feelings inside, and don’t feel that they have an outlet to share their concerns. If they can share how they are feeling with an independent advocate, then this would likely have a positive impact on their mental wellbeing.
The Looked After Minds Report
The full report from our Looked After Minds report explores the failing mental health system for young people in care, and is available to read in full below. The main principles of the report are:
- All children and young people have the right to have their voices heard in decisions made about them. This includes understanding and navigating mental health services.
- When care-experienced children transition into adulthood, they still deserve the best possible protection and support for their mental health and wellbeing.
- Every opportunity must be taken to address and minimise the impact of traumatic experiences on the mental health and wellbeing of care-experienced children and young people.
- Everyone must have the opportunity to enjoy their childhood, not just survive it. We must build resilient networks and strive to enable positive experiences for care-experienced children and young people.
The report includes a selection of recommendations for improved mental health support for young people with care experience. NYAS’ message to all care-experienced people is that the Looked After Minds campaign hears you, and we will not stop working together to battle the failing mental health system, and improve national mental health and wellbeing policies.