Care leavers urgently need mental health support

A Barnardo’s study reveals that two thirds of care leavers identified as having mental health needs were not receiving any help from a statutory service.

The research by the UK’s leading children’s charity suggests that nearly half of England’s 26,340 care leavers may be suffering with mental health problems.

And the Neglected Minds report also found that one in four had faced a mental health crisis since leaving care.

With mental health services extremely stretched, Barnardo’s is calling on the Government to ensure that some of the £1.4bn promised to improve children’s mental health, is used to support vulnerable care leavers.

Barnardo’s Chief Executive, Javed Khan said:

“Our research shows a shocking picture of care leavers in need with no access to suitable mental health support. Young people who have been in care often experience poor mental health ranging from anxiety to serious problems following abuse or neglect. The Government must ensure these vulnerable young people receive the support they so desperately need when it honours its pledge to improve children’s mental health.”

Barnardo’s wants clinical commissioning groups to invest more in services specifically aimed at meeting the needs of young people leaving care, such as:

  • Embedding a mental health worker within leaving care teams
  • Developing youth specific services for people into their early 20s
  • Upskilling those in leaving care services to better understand mental health.

The findings follow a review of 274 case files from two of the charity’s care leaver services.

The research also discovered that those working with care leavers often don’t have sufficient understanding of mental health and how to support young people. And those mental health services which are available are frequently too inflexible to meet the continuing needs of young people – for example operating an age cut-off at 18.

Disturbingly, Barnardo’s workers reported a number of cases where they were unable to access support for a young person despite incidents of self-harm and suicide attempts.

One example is Callum, 21, from the North West, who received support from a Barnardo’s service after being in care. His dad died, he was bullied at school and was moved to a children’s home.

He said:

“I started to cut myself at the top of my legs to try and make myself feel better. It worked for like five seconds, then I was left feeling angry and upset again. Then I started hearing voices in my head – I remember it clearly, voices telling me that I would die when I was 18. I was terrified. One day I decided I was going to end my life. I tried to hang myself but someone at the home burst into my room and cut me down. I was put on anti-depressants.

“If it wasn’t for Barnardo’s I know I wouldn’t be here now. I’d be locked up, homeless or dead. Barnardo’s helped me to build confidence in myself and that in turn helped my mental health.”

Read the full report.

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