Good Practice: How mental health services for looked-after children are being improved in South Yorkshire

Friday, October 14, 2011

A new approach to supporting looked-after children with mental health problems has led to improved co-ordination of services and better identification of need

Mental health specialists work to improve services for looked-after children by helping to devise a new model of care
Mental health specialists work to improve services for looked-after children by helping to devise a new model of care

Project Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust's children and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) team

Funding To improve support for looked-after children with mental health problems

Purpose Includes about £200,000 a year from NHS North Lincolnshire

Background Looked-after children are more likely to suffer emotional or mental health problems, with estimates ranging from 45 to 60 per cent compared to 10 per cent of children generally. Yet they do not always have swift access to the support they need.

Mental health specialists at Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust were determined to improve services for this vulnerable group, spurred by government initiatives including Care Matters. They worked with North Lincolnshire Council to develop a new model of care.

Action The project got under way in 2006 with work to assess the level of need. All looked-after children and young people are now screened every year using questionnaires asking about their strengths and difficulties.

Those with the most serious problems or "high need" are supported by a "team around the child", which includes the young person's foster carer and social worker, a psychologist and other professionals. The team works with both the foster carer and young person for up to two years to help build and strengthen relationships and boost mental wellbeing.

Professionals usually see children and carers at home. Children with "moderate need" may get short-term support from a similar team while those with "low need" can access group sessions on a voluntary basis to help boost their emotional wellbeing.

Foster carers and social workers get general training on emotional and mental health.

Outcome The new approach has greatly improved co-ordination of services says Darren Brierley, consultant clinical psychologist and clinical lead for the CAMHS team. For example, there is now a "no waiting list" principle.

Professionals and carers feel the approach has improved communication and led to better identification of need. On a scale of zero to seven most foster carers give the service a satisfaction score of around six.

The potential cost savings are vast, explains Brierley, with fewer children going into residential care or needing costly out-of-authority specialist placements. A quantitative evaluation is now planned.

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