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Mental health assessments for children entering care

Government announces pilots for children entering the care system to receive a mental health assessment

Neglected Child

The government is to pilot new approaches to mental health assessments for looked-after children it has emerged.

During the third reading of the government's controversial Children and Social Work Bill in the House of Lords, Lord Nash said the Department for Education will test new approaches to mental health assessments for looked-after children by May next year.

The government intends to pilot mental health assessments as part of the existing health assessments that children receive when they start to be looked after.

The announcement comes after the education select committee found that a significant number are failing to identify mental health issues when children enter care and services are turning away vulnerable young people for not meeting diagnostic thresholds or being without a stable placement.

A report published by the committee in April called for looked-after children to be given priority access to mental health assessments and never refused care based on their placement or severity of their condition.

In Parliament, Lord Nash clarified that the pilots will run in parallel to the considerations of an expert working group, co-chaired by former president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services Alison O'Sullivan, which has been tasked with developing care pathways for looked-after children with mental health problems.

“We believe that running pilots in a number of local authority areas, potentially on a regional basis, to look at how mental health can be better assessed as part of the wider health assessment, will be complementary to the work of the expert group,” said Lord Nash. “It will also help to inform the implementation of any of its recommendations. These pilots will also guard against treating mental health in isolation from physical health and ensure that we address the needs of the whole child in a holistic manner.”

The government is proposing that there will be between six and 10 pilots launched by April or May next year. The DfE is in the early stages of planning what the pilots will look like and wants providers and children and young people, to help develop and shape the model.

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