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14.09.16

DH rejects priority mental health assessments for children in care

Recommendations for children in care to automatically receive an assessment of their mental health have been rejected by the Department of Health.

A recent report by the Education Select Committee found that children in care frequently struggle to access mental health services because of factors such as frequent relocations, as reported in NHE’s sister title, Public Sector Executive.

It therefore recommended that children in care should have priority access to specialist mental health assessments.

However, in its response to the report, the Department of Health said: “We do not accept the committee’s recommendation as it stands.”

It added: “Access to NHS treatment should be determined on the basis of clinical need, not on the basis of personal circumstances or any other non-clinical criteria.”

The department also said it was “absolutely right” that carers, social workers, health professionals and teachers should refer children in care for a mental health assessment if they show signs of needing it. Children have an initial health assessment by a doctor when they enter care, which the department said should include their mental health.

“As with everyone receiving care from the NHS, it is critical that a child or young person’s emotional and mental health needs be given parity of esteem with their physical health, in assessments and elsewhere,” the department added.

The department also said the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire, which is completed for all children in care, is sufficient for identifying mental health problems and will trigger a “multi-agency response” if it identifies problems.

In addition, the government revealed it has now formed an expert working group to consider how to improve the mental health and wellbeing of children in care and care leavers, with partners from NHS England, Health Education England and the care sector.

Children can face delays of up to ten years in accessing Child and Adolescent Mental Healh Services, with nearly a third of children being turned away.

Charity YoungMinds said recently that the NHS and other services are at risk of traumatising vulnerable children further by failing to respond to their problems appropriately.

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