Up to 10 pilot areas were set to start testing mental health assessments for looked-after children by May last year, but these were delayed as a result of the snap general election, and are still yet to launch.
In May DfE minister Lord Agnew said they would get underway in 2018, but it has now emerged that while the two-year pilot is pencilled in to begin in November, there will be a six-month set-up period. Mental health checks will then be provided between June 2019 and May 2020, followed by a six-month period of “sharing learning”, meaning the project will be “live” for a period of 12 months.
The group delivering the pilot, which is led by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families (AFNCCF), said it will work with the pilot sites to develop an “implementable, needs-based, child-focused assessment framework”, according to a document outlining details of the pilot.
The underlying philosophy behind the trials will be to increase trust in the relationship between professional and child through the APP (attention, perspective taking and providing empathy) model which will be taught in training workshops to those carrying out the assessment.
“Currently, there is wide variability in how mental health assessments are carried out, and a common barrier is the difficulty of engaging a child or young person in a discussion about their emotional wellbeing,” the document states.
“This project aims to develop a shared stance and language across all key people involved in the young person’s life.
“This might include the child’s GP, social worker, or another professional/advocate who is able to help coordinate the young person’s care, with the young person at the centre of this.”
The pilot also plans to look at ways of ensuring the assessment process is centred around each child’s needs, including what the data from the test means. It will also look at who is best placed to carry out the assessment.
Support for pilot sites will include training and toolkits, consultant support and access to “a community of practice to share learning”.
Pilot sites will share £650,000 to deliver the scheme, with £240,000 awarded to the delivery group, which also includes Action for Children, the Child Outcomes Research Consortium, Research in Practice and the NSPCC.
In addition, a consortium led by SQW, an economic development and social research organisation, has also been awarded £150,000 to carry out an independent evaluation to look at the effectiveness and impact of the pilots, which will take place in up to 10 sites.
In response to a parliamentary question from Labour MP Luciana Berger on suicide rates among children in care, children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi said that the deadline for applications for pilot sites is 19 October.
He added: “We recognise that this is a very serious issue, and we are piloting new approaches to the assessment of mental health needs that looked-after children receive on entry to care – ensuring that their individual needs are understood and at the centre of the process.”