Baroness Claire Tyler writes…Commitment secured on mental health assessments for looked after children

In the last few months I have been fighting to secure an important amendment to the Government’s Children and Social Work Bill. I want to ensure there is a commitment for the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of children in the care system to be promoted; and to ensure children have an assessment of their mental wellbeing as soon as possible after they enter the care system. I am delighted that following discussions with ministers and officials at the Department for Education, this important change will go ahead.

It is simply unacceptable that, currently, standard health tests which are undertaken when a child enters the care system do not cover mental health, given that children in care are four times more likely than their peers to have a mental health difficulty according to ONS data and at least 45% of children entering care have a diagnosable mental health condition. This figure rises to a shocking 72% for children entering residential care according to a recent NICE report. These are some of the most vulnerable young people in our society, many of whom will have suffered from neglect and abuse before entering care and we have been letting them down for too long.

Thankfully, Ministers have now listened and, in response to my amendment, agreed to begin testing and piloting forms of mental health assessment for these young people as part of their broader mental health strategy. In the first instance this will mean different approaches are trialled with certain age groups in up to ten local authorities, starting next April. I’m hopeful that once these pilots show what a positive impact this has, it will not be long before they are rolled out more widely. I will personally be keeping a close eye on progress.

The pilots will include some children entering residential care, who tend to be the most in need and to have the highest level of mental health needs. They will also include some children entering foster care and this should help to provide foster carers with a clearer understanding of the emotional and mental health needs of children in their care and how best to meet them, including any support they might need themselves.

The Liberal Democrats made equality between mental and physical health a campaign priority when we were in Government and we will continue to fight tooth and nail toward this goal.

It is scandalous that people with mental health problems still do not enjoy the same access to services and treatment as those with physical health problems and that a majority of children and young people experiencing a mental health problem are currently not properly identified and referred to appropriate treatment and support. For some it will be emotional or therapeutic support to promote their wellbeing whilst for others it may be an appropriate clinical intervention.

In later life, too many people inappropriately end up in prison essentially because they suffer from mental ill health or have a learning disability; and people with long-term mental health conditions live on average 20 years less than the general population. There are sadly many more examples of these inequalities.

This is a deeply unfair and shameful situation which my parliamentary colleagues and I will continue to campaign against; but I’m extremely pleased that yesterday we made one more important step forward.

* Claire Tyler, Baroness Tyler of Enfield, has been in the House of Lords since 2011, taking an active role in the areas of health and social care, welfare reform, social mobility, well-being, children and family policy, machinery of government and the voluntary sector. She is the Liberal Democrat member of the Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility, and co-chair of the APPG on Social Mobility

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2 Comments

  • Well done. We just now have to see it implemented properly on the ground, only problem it will be just one of the many assessments that take place, each lengthy, detailed and time consuming in themselves.

  • Alastair Thomson 24th Nov '16 - 9:01pm

    While the House of Lords is utterly anachronistic, I am glad that Liberal Democrat peers are working and winning victories like this which, though modest, make people’s lives better. Congratulations, thanks and please keep up the pressure.

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