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What does the NHS Long Term Plan mean for children in care?

Following the announcement in June 2018 that the NHS would receive an additional £20 billion investment, the NHS Long Term Plan was published on Monday 7 January 2019. The Plan sets out a ten-year road map detailing the changes and improvements planned for the NHS.

But what does this mean for children in care and young care leavers?

Commitment to children’s mental health

The Plan puts a significant emphasis on improving health and wellbeing for children and young people, and makes ambitious commitments to increase funding for children’s mental health. We welcome this news as almost half of children in care have a diagnosable mental health disorder compared to 11.2% of all 5 to 15 year olds. The majority of children come into care as a result of abuse or neglect, and the adverse emotional impact of these pre-care experiences can be compounded by the difficulties children face when living within the care system. 

The Plan sets out a target to treat an additional 345,000 children a year by 2023, as well as a commitment to treating all children who require specialised mental health support by the end of the Plan’s ten-year term. Currently, we know that far too many young people in care are turned away from CAMHS because they do not meet the unacceptably high threshold for treatment. It is vital that appropriate funding and staffing is in place to ensure that all looked after children get the consistency and level of support they deserve. However, we also need to recognise the importance of those beyond specialist services in supporting positive mental health and wellbeing for children in care, such as foster carers and key workers within children’s homes.

Improving the transition to adult services

The stress and uncertainty of the leaving care period can be intensified by a difficult transition to adult services aged 18 – a time when many young people in care are first moving to independence. Care leavers often tell us about the difficulties they faced when simultaneously leaving care and managing the transition from children’s to adult services. Therefore, we welcome plans to deliver an integrated 0-25 years approach. We hope this new comprehensive model based on need rather than age creates the safety and stability which care leavers deserve during a period of change in their lives.

Specific support for looked after children and care leavers

We are encouraged to see explicit consideration within the Plan for care leavers and a commitment to delivering better outcomes for this group by improving access to targeted support. However, we are disappointed by the lack of any specific targets; the Plan simply suggests the NHS will “build on the current assessment pilots for children entering the care system”. We need more urgent and extensive action than that promised by the delayed mental health assessment pilots, the results of which will not be available until 2020 from only ten pilot areas.

We all have a part to play to ensure that young people in and leaving care get the love, stability and support that they need to have the best chance of a happy and healthy adult life. At Become, we will continue to listen to care-experienced young people and challenge the NHS and other organisations to hold young people’s health and wellbeing at the forefront of future planning.