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Keywords:

  • CAMHS;
  • looked after children;
  • mental health;
  • social work

Abstract

Previous research has established high rates of mental health need in looked after children. The study described in this paper aimed to explore in more depth the mental health problems of looked after children and to examine the service response to those needs in two English local authorities. The study utilised a purposive sample of 80 looked after children which was biased towards those with high needs but which reflected the characteristics of looked after children in the two areas with regard to age, gender and type of placement. Key data on children and young people were collected from social services’ case files and a set of indicators of mental health need was designed by the research team in order to distinguish different types and levels of mental health problems.

High levels of mental health need in the study group were associated with placement disruption. Educational difficulties were also apparent in the group with the highest levels of mental health need. Longer-term input from child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) professionals did not appear to be targeted on the group with the highest level of mental health needs. The researchers conclude that longer-term CAMHS interventions could be usefully focused on looked after children who have experienced high levels of placement disruption. As the professional group most likely to be providing substantial intervention to looked after children and their carers, social workers require relevant training in identifying and responding to mental health needs. CAMHS professionals could develop and strengthen their consultative roles with front-line carers, social workers and schools.