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'Speed up mental health support for children in care'

Posted on 6/11/2017 by

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"It felt like no-one was there for me and no-one cared - I was crying myself to sleep every night."

This is what life was like for Callum after he was taken into care aged 13 in 2008, following the death of his father and a family breakdown.

He told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme his mental health quickly deteriorated.

"I was still an emotional kid trying to get over Dad, and everything got on top of me. He was my superhero."

Almost half of those in the care system have a diagnosable mental health disorder, according to statutory guidance published in 2015.

Looked-after children are four times more likely than their non-looked after peers to have a mental health condition.

England's children's commissioner Anne Longfield has told the Victoria Derbyshire programme there should be "a presumption" among those working in the sector that all children in care should receive support for their mental health.

She said the care system had been too focused on child safeguarding in the past and not enough on helping children recover from traumatic upbringings.

"Kids aren't nurtured enough when in care," she said. "They will be - at best - able to get some support, but it's still quite clunky.

"We need to see it differently - need to help children in terms of trauma-based therapy at an early stage.

"We know kids in care are more likely to end up homeless and in prison. The earlier we can deal with the trauma, the better."

The government said it was "vital that children in care and those who look after them receive the mental health support they need.

"We are putting a record £1.4bn into children and young people's mental health but there is more to be done."

'Good and bad' counsellors

Ms Longfield's comments came as the Social Care Institute for Excellence published its recommendations to help improve the wellbeing of children in care.

It said a "virtual mental health lead" should be established, "to ensure that every child and young person in the system is getting the support they need for their mental health and emotional wellbeing".

Another recommendation said "everyone working directly with looked-after children should receive training on children and young people's mental health".

Callum said his self-harm became so destructive "I had a cut from my hip down to my kneecap".

He also tried to hang himself, but was stopped by a carer.

He agreed that more mental health support was needed, adding that when he first entered the care system he did not know where to look.

When he did get support, he said the quality between different professionals differed greatly.

"I got a bit of counselling. Sometimes you had a good counsellor, and then a bad counsellor," he said.

The "bad" counsellors, he added, "didn't know what was going on in my life - they've just read a piece of paper".

'A happy place'

"If I could go back there today, I'd say that I want one set worker for me - I don't want to see one person one week, and then another person [the next] week."

Anne Longfield said the children most in need of support were those who had been "moved around" the care system more frequently.

She added that with more children coming into the care system at an older age it was vital to introduce mental health support as early as possible, as these individuals would have already had longer "in a very difficult environment".

Callum left the care system aged 18, and is positive about his future.

"Now I'm in a happy place. I've got my own house, a beautiful daughter, and a beautiful fiancee," he said.

Source: BBCNews