A spotlight on the mental health of care-experienced children and young people
Last Tuesday, some of the country’s leading experts on children in care and mental health came together for a CoramBAAF event exploring what we know about children in care and their short- and long-term mental health needs and outcomes. They shared a comprehensive review of contemporary evidence to form the basis of a roundtable discussion and to inform future priorities.
The very high prevalence of mental ill health in the population of children in care – and amongst care leavers – is an ongoing policy and practice concern. We wanted to bring together key stakeholders, policymakers, managers and senior civil servants for a multi-disciplinary conversation about the pathways for the policy and practice changes required to address the mental health of children and young people in care, based on current research evidence.
First, attendees heard from Dinithi Wijedasa, Head of Children and Families Research Centre at the University of Bristol. Dinithi has a background in developmental psychology with over 15 years of experience in researching outcomes of vulnerable groups such as children in care, adopted children and those growing up in the care of relatives and friends. She spoke about the long-term patterns of children’s mental health and some of the factors that influenced this. Risk factors identified for poorer mental health were being white, being younger and the number of placements a child had experienced.
After her, we heard from Katherine Shelton, Professor of Psychology at the University of Cardiff. She spoke about her findings from the Wales Adoption Cohort Study. She also spoke of the potential for positive outcomes and the need to translate research insights into positive practice change.
We also heard from Robbie Duschinsky, Associate Professor at the University of Cambridge. He spoke of his work around maltreatment and mental health and his best evidence review. This was a systematic, quantitative umbrella synthesis to explore and describe the associations between types of maltreatment and mental health issues.
Our fourth speaker was Dr Rachel Hiller. She is the Associate Professor in Child Mental Health at UCL and Head of Postgraduate Studies at the Anna Freud National Centre for Children & Families, and she spoke about what helps and hinders mental health professionals in using best-practice with care experienced young people with PTSD.
Our final speaker was Dr Lisa Holmes. She is Professor of Applied Social Science at the University of Sussex. She shared information about the ReThink: Mental health and transitions for care-experienced young people project which aims to produce the necessary evidence to develop better quality intervention and support programmes, for the children’s social care, mental health and education sectors.
After an opportunity to ask the panel a whole range of difficult and interesting questions, we heard from our keynote speaker Lisa Harker.
Lisa has been Director of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory since 2019. Her career has combined research, policy, journalism, campaigning and service delivery with a focus on finding ways to improve the lives of the UK’s most disadvantaged children. Lisa also has first-hand experience of the family justice system as an adoptive parent of two children. She spoke of the ‘absurdities’ we encounter when speaking about children in care and their mental health, and the fact that we don’t start from the point that all children coming into care will need some support to make sense of themselves, their relationships, what has happened to them and the trauma they are very likely to have experienced.
Lisa’s powerful keynote speech was followed by a roundtable discussion for all attendees to set future priorities for policy, practice and research. The outcomes of the discussion will inform the work of CoramBAAF and be used to influence positive policy and practice change.
Liam Hoskins, events officer, CoramBAAF