Report highlights stigma surrounding mental health


Mental health charity, YoungMinds, has launched a worrying report highlighting the stigma surrounding the mental health of Looked after Children and Young People.

The report follows recent figures that revealed more applications were made last month to take children into care than ever before. Around 60% of Looked after Young People have some level of mental health problem.

With ever increasing numbers of children being taken into care YoungMinds is warning that services that come into contact with Looked after Children and Young People need to be much more aware of their mental health needs.

YoungMinds worked with 50 young people from residential homes, secure settings and foster placements and ran a variety of creative workshops focusing on the areas of placements, education and support services. Two groups of residential child care workers and supervising social workers were also consulted as part of the research project.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Participants repeatedly stated that the only representation of children in care that others know is the TV character Tracy Beaker and that they are tired of telling peers that they are ‘not like Tracy Beaker’
  • Many young people had a fairly negative perception of mental health services. Those who had not accessed services were wary and suggested that they were for people who are particularly unwell. Words such as “mad” and “mental” were used to describe who services maybe aimed at
  • Most of the young people stated that they did not feel that their emotional needs were understood or that they could talk about their emotional needs at school, especially because staff did not have experience of the care system
  • They were often anxious when they moved into placements and that their perception of foster care and residential care were very different from reality

YoungMinds recommends for Education services:

  • In order to reduce stigma, young people should have control over who has access to information about them. It is not necessary for all teaching staff to know that a young person is Looked After.
  • As part of the admissions “Personal Education Plan” meeting young people should be asked about information sharing. This should be reviewed at the follow up meeting once the young person has begun to develop relationships with school staff.
  • In order for Looked After Young People’s mental health to be supported, all staff members must have basic training around the needs and experiences of Looked After Young People so that their emotional needs are supported and they can achieve academically.

The report recommends for Social Services:

  • To improve Looked After Young People’s mental health and wellbeing they need more information before moving into placements. This includes understanding what a foster placement or residential child care or a secure unit might be like.
  • Young people must have an opportunity to visit placements prior to moving in and spend time with potential carers.
  • All foster carers and residential workers must have training in supporting the mental health needs of young people.This needs to be backed up with regular supervision and reflective support sessions.Young people leaving care need to know that they can have support when they move out of their placements as this can be a very anxious time for them and most feel vulnerable and insecure. Young people stated that it was particularly helpful when they continued to have contact with residential workers from the placement where they had previously lived or other adults with whom they already had a positive relationship with.

The report recommends for Mental Health Services:

  • Young people identified carers, family members and participation workers as the adults they were most likely to talk to about their emotional wellbeing. These worked best and lessened the stigma of seeking help where relationships had been given time to develop and for trust to be earned and support was provided in non-clinical settings whilst undertakingother activities.
  • Peer mentoring may be appropriate if support is given and managed well.
  • The use of art, play, drama and music should also be used as methods for communication and improving emotional wellbeing.
  • If young people are to engage with mental health services work must be undertaken by service providers to engage with young people and to develop trusting relationships.
  • Young people who have experienced considerable trauma may have learned that it is safer not to trust adults and may be rejecting of the therapist for much longer than other than young people and creative ways of developing trust and building relationships may be necessary in order for the therapeutic process to begin.
  • Considerable work needs to be undertaken to reduce mental health stigma. Involving Looked After Young people in the rebranding of local CAMHS would be helpful so that child centred services can be developed and services reframed so they are more appealing and accessible to young people.

Lucie Russell Director of Campaigns and Policy at YoungMinds  said: “There needs to be more widespread understanding of what it means to be a Looked After Young Person. Participants repeatedly stated that the only representation of children in care that others know is the TV character Tracy Beaker and that they are tired of telling peers that they are ‘not like Tracy Beaker’.

“Looked after children have come from a variety of traumatic backgrounds and experience many of the risk factors that lead to mental health problems including neglect, violence and sexual abuse. Mental health services should be prioritizing the needs of looked after children and ensuring services are designed and delivered to meet them.”

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