Government vows to launch mental health check pilots later this year

By Joe Lepper

| 01 June 2018

Delayed trials of mental health assessments for children entering the care system will launch later this year, the government has pledged.

Education minister Lord Agnew said contracts for mental health assessment pilots are due to be awarded this month. Picture: UK Parliament

Up to 10 pilot areas were set to start testing mental health assessments for looked-after children by May last year, but these were delayed as a result of the snap general election, and are still yet to launch.

But speaking in parliament, Department for Education minister Lord Agnew said contracts for the management and the independent evaluation of the pilots are due to be awarded this month.

"The pilots will begin later in the year, once pilot areas have been selected," he said.

"They will test improved approaches to the mental health and wellbeing element of the health assessments looked-after children receive on entry to care."

He added that the proposals for the pilot have been developed with support from an expert working group, which includes looked-after children, carers and representatives from a number of care and health organisations, including the Fostering Network, the Care Leavers' Association and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

"The organisation that manages the pilots will be required to support pilot areas to identify and meet speech, language and communication needs," he said.

"We want the pilots to explore the range of professionals that should be involved in the assessment process."

The mental health assessments will be carried out in addition to existing health assessments that children receive when they are taken into care.

The plans were initially announced by the government in 2016, just two months after ministers had rejected a recommendation by the education select committee to ensure all looked-after children are assessed by a mental health expert when they enter care.

Dominic Stevenson, public affairs manager at Become, said it is still unclear how long the piloting and evaluation process will take.

"While government drag their feet a generation of children are still waiting for support that won't be coming any time soon," he said.

"The expert working group was clear about the scale of the need and the inadequacy of current provision, and until good quality mental health assessments and rapidly accessible support services are made available universally to children in care, their mental health will continue to suffer. 

"The government's insistence on small-scale initiatives such as innovation funds and pilot programmes falls short of meeting the needs of children who are in care right now, and who are long overdue the help they've been asking for.

"We hope that the government step up to the plate and make these pilots happen quickly and efficiently so that children can start receiving the support they need and deserve."

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