We know about poor outcomes for care leavers: we know that almost half of children in care have a mental health difficulty; we know that a quarter of young women in care will either be mothers or pregnant when they leave care; that 40% of the prison population aged under 21 have been in care; we know they are more likely to be excluded from school and have lower educational attainment with only 6% of care leavers making it to university compared to 38% of all young people.
It is arguable that these poor outcomes are directly connected to the neglected emotional health and well-being needs of young people in care.
That is why this inquiry is so important.
Young people in care and care leavers will have experienced disrupted family relationships, multiple placements, instability and insecurity from changes of school, loss of identity and a sense of being disconnected and different. They need help to overcome the difficulties that they face, rather than being left to develop their own coping mechanisms.
It is not enough to say that help is out there. There are difficulties around the availability of the mental health provision but also in navigating the system. Accessing mental health care, asking for help and overcoming stigma is hard enough for any young person, even with a strong supportive family.
Children in care and care leavers seldom have someone to fight their corner – it is the state that has taken the decision to take the child from their family, and having done so it is for the state to make adequate provision.
Mental health care for looked-after children is not something that is the exclusive preserve of the specialist: schools, foster carers, social workers all need to work closely in partnership with mental health specialists. Mental health needs to be considered as at least as important as any other need a child in care may face.
A key part of our inquiry was listening to the experience of children in care. We took evidence from care leavers and foster carers, both in committee and informally. We met young people in a residential care setting and heard about their experiences of mental health provision.
I hope our report will generate greater awareness of the mental health needs of young people in care, a stronger cross departmental approach and greater accessibility to mental health care provision for our most vulnerable children.
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