Government set to boost mental health services for children in care

By Neil Puffett

| 04 February 2016

Support for children and young people in care who are experiencing mental health problems is set to be boosted after the government pledged to set out exactly what services they can expect to receive.

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Health minister Alistair Burt says an expert group will develop care pathways to meet the needs of looked-after children with mental health problems. Picture: Newscast Online

Appearing before the education select committee, which is conducting a review into the mental health and wellbeing of looked-after children, health minister Alistair Burt said the Department of Health and the Department for Education will establish an expert group to "develop care pathways that will support an integrated approach to meeting the needs of looked-after children with mental health difficulties".

Care pathways consist of an outline of anticipated care, and appropriate timeframes, to help a patient get better. Burt did not indicate whether additional funding will be available, although £1.5bn has already been earmarked by government to improve child and adolescent mental health services in the period up to 2020.

Burt said the expert group will be made up of figures from across health, social care, and education, with additional input from children, young people, carers, and families with experience of the care system. It will work with NHS England, Health Education England, and other sector organisations.

"Our determination is to make sure [that young people in care with mental health problems] get the care they need," Burt said.

However, Burt did indicate that government is not keen on giving young people in care priority over others when it comes to mental health services.

"I think it is essential that all children are assessed according to their need," he said.

"It is important that looked-after children come into a service that is able to look after the mental health needs of all children, without specification, and without discrimination."

However children's minister Edward Timpson said he believed more can be done to support the specific group of children in care.

"I think there are things we can do to make sure that children in care and also children who move into special guardianship, or adoption have better arrangements in place so they don't lose out by there being insufficient resource for them," he said.

During the session Timpson also indicated that he is not keen on introducing more extensive training for foster carers.

Asked about the merits of extended training for foster carers, as well as registration and nationally recognised qualifications, Timpson said a balance must be struck.

"It is important that foster carers don't just get their three days of training for their initial transition into foster care - they need to be given the opportunity to develop themselves," he said.

"[But] there has been a long-running debate about the status of foster carers as a profession and how much you professionalise and turn them into another arm of public services.

"My worry is, partly based on personal experience but also from speaking to many other people who foster, is that if you regulate them to that level you will lose a lot of the distance there is between them and the role of the state.

"You may lose the breadth and depth of people who come forward to foster at a time when we are trying to get a greater range of people. That may have an adverse effect and start narrowing the number of people able to do what is an altruistic role, but nevertheless, one that we are going to need people to keep coming forward to offer.

"It's not something we should have a closed mind to, but I think we need to be careful we don't end up creating another arm of government."

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