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Thursday, 24 November 2016

Government announce mental health checks for children entering care system

Written by The Press Association

Mental health checks for children entering the care system are to be trialled in the face of calls by peers for assessments, the Government has announced.

Education minister Lord Nash revealed the plans to run up to 10 pilots next year, at the third reading of the Children and Social Work Bill.

These checks would form part of the existing health assessments youngsters received when they were taken into care.

Lord Nash said this would ensure the needs of the child were met "in a holistic manner".

The minister was responding to demands by a number of peers for assessments to be carried out of a child's mental health and well-being when they need looking after.

One of those was Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Tyler of Enfield said she was convinced such an approach would "assist greatly with finding appropriate placements for young people with the right support built in...and therefore lead to greater placement stability".

She argued such a step "would ensure that the emotional and mental health needs of children in care are identified early and that they and those caring for them can receive the support required to meet their needs, and prevent the current unacceptably high rate escalation to mental health conditions, which can affect children long into adulthood".

She was supported by independent crossbench peer Lord Warner, a former director of social services, who stressed the need to give children entering care "a good shot at getting access to the services that they need".

Replying to peers, Lord Nash said: "I am very pleased to be able to tell the House that we will test new approaches to mental health assessment for looked after children.

"We are at the early stage of working out what this should look like and we want providers themselves and children and young people to help us develop and shape the model.

"We haven't settled on how many pilots, but our initial thinking is that between six and 10 would be sensible.

"And of course we would want to ensure they were representative in terms of factors such as urban and rural and the characteristics of the looked after population."

The pilots, which will start in April or May next year would run in parallel to the considerations of an expert working group on the mental health of looked-after children.

Lord Nash added: "So we intend to pilot mental health assessments as part of the existing health assessments that children receive when they start to be looked after.

"We believe that pilots in a number of local authority areas, potentially on a regional basis, to look at how mental health can be better assessed as part of the wider health assessment will be complementary to the work of the expert group.

"These pilots will also guard against treating mental health in isolation from physical health and ensure we address the needs of the whole child in a holistic manner."

Later, the Government proposed a change to the bill and so relationships would be added to the list of what local authorities should assist care leavers with, alongside education and training, employment and accommodation.

Tory peer Lord Farmer, who had previously argued for the measure, said the rejection experienced by care leavers in their lives often led to a "I'll reject them before they reject me" attitude.

He said the change would contribute towards dealing with this problem.

A proposal was also put forward by peers that would place a duty on local authorities to take account of the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child.

However, Lord Nash argued the Government's existing commitment to the UN Convention made the amendment unnecessary.

The bill was given its third reading by peers and now goes to the House of Commons for consideration by MPs.

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