The NSPCC has condemned the “virtually non-existent” mental health support for babies and infants in the care system.
Despite increased recognition of the mental health problems suffered by young people in care, the charity says not enough consideration has been given to the impact of infant mental health. It has called for a rethink in how this group of children are supported, with more emphasis placed on offering help earlier.
The NSPCC has launched a campaign to improve mental health provision for looked-after children under five, and says more interventions are needed that focus on helping the child to form strong attachments with carers.
It is investigating whether the US developed New Orleans Intervention Model, which focuses on attachment-based practice, can be widely adopted in the UK - it is being tested by the charity in Glasgow and Croydon.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “The wider system has vastly under-estimated the importance of looking after infant mental health. Acting early can have significant benefits to future life outcomes. Yet public money is mostly spent on ‘late intervention’, rather than preventing problems occurring in the first place.
“It is time to rethink the way we work together across agencies to better identify and address the mental health and well-being needs of infants and young children.”
Research by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence shows that 45 per cent of looked-after children experience mental health problems.
The launch of the campaign has been timed to coincide with the UK’s first Infant Mental Health Awareness Week (June 6-10), which has been organised by the Parent Infant Partnership (PIP UK).
PIP UK executive director Claire Rees said: “Good mental health begins in early childhood. When a baby has the opportunity to form a secure bond with their caregiver, it can support their ability to form healthy relationships throughout life. The first 1001 days of life, from conception to age two, provide a crucial opportunity to influence this development.”
Last month, the education select committee inquiry into looked-after children's mental health condemned the lack of mental health support in the care system. The government has set up an expert group to investigate how support can be improved.
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