Foster care service providers are sure to note an important development in our schools. Especially as one of the most disturbing facts to emerge last year was sixty-five per cent of children coming into care are suffering from trauma. Which means our unsung foster carers are bearing the brunt – often with little support or recognition from wider society – of dealing with young lives that have been blighted by neglect or abuse. Such children will have mental health issues. That is without a doubt. But because foster children have formed a small proportion of the nation’s young people, their circumstances have, sadly, remained off the radar for most people. This is changing – a fact unlikely to be the result of the exertions of those overseeing the 2018 foster care stocktake – but because the mental well being of all children is now firmly in the public eye. And why? Well, the fact a leading national paper reported a rise in the number of mental health disorders among children must have played a part. This was in November – with National Health Service figures revealing that one in eight people under the age of nineteen in England had a mental disorder in 2017. These figures were produced from a survey of 9,117 children and youngsters which indicated also that the prevalence of disorders increased to one in six people aged between seventeen and nineteen.
The director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, Imran Hussain, reacted to the National Health Service figures by stating: “ Today’s long-awaited figures reveal the true scale of the children’s mental health crisis in this country. Sadly, this stark rise in children and teenagers suffering from a mental health disorder makes it clear current government plans are failing to grasp this reality.” He continued by adding – “ Every day our frontline services see children and teenagers struggling to understand how they fit into the world.”
The fact that the nature of the world young people find themselves living in also adds to their burdens was also referred to by Imran Hussain:
“They have to contend with things like intense pressure at school, bullying, problems at home, all while navigating a complex 24/7 world with constant stimulation from social media.”
It is probably not a coincidence that a month to the day after this article appeared, it was reported Ofsted would be taking steps to consider a new assessment to ensure the schools themselves play a part in looking after the pupil’s mental health and well being. This, apparently, is a move which will come on top of the other changes being considered to the school inspection framework. The more cynical amongst us will suspect the government’s hand has been forced due to the sheer build up of pressures within the system. For those who follow these matters, they will recognise an inconsistency with Ofsted’s new assessment to cater for pupil’s mental health, whilst it is known many schools have been engaged in the practice of ‘off-rolling’ troublesome pupils – precisely those youngsters likely to have such problems. This, it has been widely reported, is to enable schools to protect their positions in league tables. Despite this, it will most likely be revealed next month by Amanda Spielman – the chief inspector of schools – that a new “personal development” category will be introduced. This, it is mooted, will mark schools on whether they are making adequate provision to promote the mental health and wellbeing of pupils. It is to be hoped that schools will now; as a consequence, be prevented from engaging in “off-rolling’.
It is difficult to have much confidence in these measures when it appears the government has been forced to act – largely, it seems, because over forty charities and assorted campaign groups have written to the press to give prominence to the “mental health crisis in our classrooms.”
The letter has been signed by, amongst others, Young Minds, The Royal College of Psychiatrists, The Princes Trust and the NSPCC.
Extract from the letter:
There is a mental health crisis in our classrooms. New NHS figures suggest that one in eight children and young people has a diagnosable mental health condition, and that rates of emotional disorders like anxiety and depression are on the rise.”
What is especially concerning is that there may be even more children with problems that are simply not known about. This is because they are not even in the mainstream education system. The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, published a briefing in November 2017 entitled ‘Falling through the Gaps in Education’. In her own words she states: “I am particularly concerned about children that are effectively ‘invisible’, in the sense that they can’t be found or seen in official statistics.” In the introduction to the briefing, she also gives some idea of the numbers that might be involved by referring to a report from the previous July: “Last July’s report identified 121,000 sixteen to eighteen-year-olds not in education, employment or training (NEET), 154,060 pupils who received a fixed period exclusion from school in 2014/15, and 5,800 pupils who were permanently excluded in 2014/15. In today’s briefing, we show that tens of thousands children are not attending mainstream or special schools, and in too many cases we simply don’t know enough about the kind of education they are getting.”
A footnote from the foster care sector.
It is clear now, and has been for sometime, that the indecision and ineffectiveness of government in concluding arrangements for Brexit is resulting in a failure to address problems of a critical nature right across society. The near total pre-occupation with trying to reach an accommodation for withdrawal from the EU, is making government purblind. Pressure is now being heaped on schools to address what are actually health issues at the same time as heads are struggling to cope with managing budgets and expanding roles. According to one poll conducted amongst six thousand teachers, they identified spending and average of four and a half hours every week dealing with concerns arising around their pupil’s mental health or wellbeing.
Of particular interest is the fact that the survey commissioned by the charity ‘Young Minds’ also found that ninety-three per cent of teachers are of the opinion that our education system itself, is placing too great a focus on academic performance instead of the well being of our children. Put simply, the government has created a system it is now relying upon to sort out problems that same system plays a part in creating. This is the kind of incoherence that can perhaps only be explained by the near total distraction of the Brexit negotiations. All our children – including the most vulnerable; many of whom are foster children – deserve much more than politicians whose responses are driven by fear of the next damning headline. The anomalies and inconsistencies of policy as it bears upon the education system have been highlighted by the campaign director at ‘Young Minds’ – Tom Madders: “We feel like the education system as a whole has its priorities wrong – there is too much focus on exams at the expense of wellbeing. If you are emotionally unwell, it is really hard to learn. So this is not just about looking after children, but it is also creating the right environment for them to learn.” For more information visit young minds.org.uk
What is frustrating is that we already have CAMHS – Child and adolescent mental health services – which is part of NHS child mental health services. in 2016 it was being reported that 6 out of 10 children and young people in England were not getting the treatment needed for problems like depression and anxiety. And this is despite the significant risk that harm could befall them as a result of their condition worsening. The suspicion is that; notwithstanding high-profile promises from the government to improve services for children, they are effectively being rationed. Children who are in foster care represent some of the most vulnerable people in society and the help they may need should in no sense be rationed.
If there are already the means to offer support within the NHS for youngsters experiencing mental health and wellbeing issues, why are schools being burdened further. It is their job to provide a high quality education for children and the truth is, when compared to the results achieved by schools in Europe and further afield, we simply do not compare favourably. Should teachers – already under enough pressure – be really asked to play a part in monitoring the mental health of pupils? It would be better to have a single point of contact – such as the pupil or student welfare officer who would be able to refer a youngster with a problem directly to CAMHS. The NHS website actually mentions that help can be sought from a school nurse or special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO).
Specialist CAMHS are defined as: “the NHS mental health services that focus on the needs of children and young people. They are multi-disciplinary teams usually comprising of psychologists; social workers; psychiatrists; nurses; support workers; occupational therapists; psychological therapists; family psychotherapists; play therapists; creative art therapists; specialist substance misuse workers and primary mental health link workers.” It is worth listing all these areas of specialist support as it demonstrates that the provision is planned to be there in depth. The only issue to be resolved concerns access. It is clear that there is much thinking in certain quarters that simply isn’t ‘joined up’. All children – including foster children deserve better. And so do foster carers themselves. The challenge and stress of fostering a young person means finding the support required should be easy and straightforward.
Join Rainbow Fostering: there’s no time like the present.
There are many different things to consider if you are planning on becoming a foster parent. We can provide comprehensive advice and guidance so you can make the choice that is right for you and your family. These are just some of the areas that we can introduce you to: types of fostering to consider, fostering allowance and benefits, how much do foster carers get paid every month, foster carer requirements and one of our most frequently asked enquiries – how long does it take to become a foster carer. We have a wide range of articles covering many aspects of foster care as well opinion and fostering provision generally visit : http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/foster-physical-fitness/ or http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/foster-child-ideas-holiday/
So if you fill out our contact form and leave your details we’ll get back to you so you can discover all there is to know about becoming a foster carer. Better still, if you are free right now, give us a call on our National Line 0330 311 2845. We’d love to hear from you. We are constantly searching for foster carers from a range of different backgrounds: single people, divorced people, married or cohabiting couples – with or without children and same-sex couples. We aim to make placements as stable as possible and this means, where possible, we prefer to place our young people with foster carers who reflect their own background and heritage. This means we are keen to find foster carers of all ethnicities and religions. You can also be a homeowner or a tenant.
To foster, you will need to have a spare bedroom and be prepared to care for children and young people of all ages. The actual experience of working with children is not a prerequisite for fostering. Obviously, it is necessary to have an interest and commitment to helping a youngster deal with problems they may have had prior to coming into fostering. It is also essential that a foster carer is prepared to include a foster child as part of their own family – and support them to reach their full potential. Foster carers must expect to take an extremely proactive role in terms of support and encouragement in relation to the education of the foster child they are caring for.
For news and occasional opinion visit: https://bit.ly/2kJHpsO
Latest story: ‘Foster care teen now has a ‘forever home’ after a wait of 4,057 days.
We are also urgently seeking people to train to be part of our therapeutic fostering care team. Please ring for details of this specialist from of foster care.