Lib Dem peer wants assessment for every child going into foster or children’s home to tackle trauma from chaotic upbringing
The 10,000 children and young people a year who go into care should have their mental health assessed so they can be helped to recover from childhood trauma and abuse, ministers are being urged.
Claire Tyler, a Liberal Democrat peer, will on Tuesday lead a parliamentary effort to persuade the government to agree the change through an amendment to the children and social work bill.
Children’s campaigners believe that a mandatory assessment of the mental health of every infant or youngster going into a foster or children’s home would reduce poor school performance, suicide and offending by them.
“It is well documented that children in care – who have often come from upsetting and chaotic environments – are more likely to develop mental health problems than those who grow up in stable family homes.
“Parents would not allow these problems to spiral in their own children and, as the government is effectively these young people’s parents, so too they should not accept anything less than the best support available,” said Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC. Ministers have “a moral duty” to ensure such children get specialist treatment to help them overcome the damaging psychological effects of their upbringing, he said.
However, ministers believe that mandatory mental health assessments would stigmatise those receiving them. But the NSPCC counters that the move would help young people who are overwhelmed by anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.
Lady Tyler of Enfield is the president of the National Children’s Bureau charity and also the chair of Cafcass, which provides guardians for children who have been taken away from their family while the family courts system decides their future.
“It should go without saying that a baseline mental health assessment is essential in enabling professionals to identify issues and tackle them before they spiral into problems that can crush a life,” added Wanless.
The NSPCC is lobbying peers to “fight on the behalf of all those thousands of children who enter our care system every year and demand that government introduce this assessment and give some of the most vulnerable children in our society the best chance possible to grow up happy and healthy.”
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is also backing the proposed change. Children going into care already undergo an automatic assessment of their physical health. Looked-after children are less likely than their peers to do well at school and more likely to have run away, while those who have been in care are much more likely than average to take their own life.
Government figures show that there were 70,440 looked-after children in England at the end of March this year. A large majority of them are in foster care. An estimated 10,000 children a year arriving in care for the first time would be assessed if ministers agreed to the proposal.
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