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Tackling The Mental Health Crisis Must Include Improving Support For Care Leavers

13/09/2017 17:34 BST | Updated 13/09/2017 17:34 BST
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Just over a year ago Theresa May stood outside Number 10 and referred to the "burning injustice" of there not being enough help for people suffering with mental health problems.

Since then mental health has continued to move up the political agenda and public awareness seems to be increasing thanks to support from the young Princes William and Harry. The subject is becoming less taboo.

But despite encouraging steps, the mental health crisis is not going to go away anytime soon. Not least for those who are particularly vulnerable, such as England's 26,340 young care leavers.

Barnardo's runs 22 care leaver services across the UK, used by 2,000 in England, all of which aim to bridge the gap for children leaving care and moving into independent living.

Safety net

Care leavers are often expected to become independent adults abruptly at 18, much younger than their peers, and are not always ready to manage on their own. Without the support network and safety net of a family, they often struggle to make the transition of moving into their own home, taking responsibility for finances and budgeting, and starting college courses or jobs.

Many have mental or emotional issues, frequently underpinned by their difficult early years. These include attachment disorders, emotional problems, anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), brought about by experiencing or witnessing abuse, domestic violence, neglect, or absent parenting.

Our research published today examined the case files of 274 care leavers in England. Their personal advisers identified that nearly half (46%) of the cases involved young people with mental health problems.

More worryingly, the majority - 65% of the young people with mental health problems were receiving no support from statutory mental health services.

No meaningful help

Service workers we interviewed confirmed that while large numbers of care leavers have mental health issues, it can be very difficult to access any meaningful help for them. Children's mental health services stop working with young people when they reach 18. This leaves personal advisers supporting some young people, including those who have self-harmed or attempted to take their own life, with no way of accessing proper mental health support.

One care leaver we supported, Emily, 19, told us how she started to have suicidal thoughts and cut her arms to try and get some relief from her depression.

She explained: "People who don't have a mental illness won't know the struggle people have to go through every day. If I'd had the support of a dedicated mental health worker when I was at my lowest I know it would have helped me so much. They would have had the training, the skills and experience to recognise the signs of mental illness and to help me."

So what needs to be done? The Government has made encouraging noises but it's time we see those words put into action.

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.

We want clinical commissioning groups to invest more in services specifically aimed at meeting the needs of young people leaving care. They could do this by placing a mental health worker within leaving care teams, developing youth specific services for people into their early 20s, and upskilling those in leaving care services to better understand mental health.

Care leavers are some of the most vulnerable young people in society but with the right support they can go on to live healthy and fulfilling lives.