Looked-after children in Scotland face ‘huge inconsistency’ in health assessments – Barnardo’s

Children in care are still facing a “significant degree of inconsistency” with health assessments despite Government guidance, Barnardo’s Scotland has said.

All youngsters in care undergo health assessments to try to unearth any physical or mental distress, including behavioural disorders and mental health illnesses.

A study by Barnardo’s Scotland looking at the mental health and well-being of looked-after children and care leavers concluded there was “a significant degree of inconsistency in the delivery of health assessments across Scotland”.

Scottish Government guidance issued in May 2014 about health assessments for looked-after children called for health boards to be consistent in “ensuring that a core subset of this detailed information is captured”.

But the Barnardo’s study found this guidance has been ignored in many parts of Scotland or implemented inconsistently.

The Care in the Mind paper draws on health boards’ responses to freedom of information (FOI) requests by Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon about the health assessments, who said the findings “reveal a huge level of inconsistency”.

The report, published on Wednesday, states: “There is a variety of practice among health boards on a number of issues, including the tools used for mental health assessments, the amount of data collected at a local level and progress towards a trauma-informed workforce.

“It is important that looked-after children have access to the same standard of practice regardless of the place they happen to stay.”

Although mental health information should be gathered during the assessments, the study found it is being used in different ways – if it is collected at all.

It cites one health board that “stated explicitly that they do not record data on the mental health of looked-after children”, while others said the details were being held in a child’s social work files, health records or Child’s Plan.

David Ferguson, the assistant director of policy and influencing at Barnardo’s Scotland, said: “We’re proud to be drawing attention to the mental health and well-being of looked-after children and care leavers, which is too often forgotten among the many struggles that they face.

“As the independent care review recently concluded, access to the right services at the right time can make all the difference.

“Health assessments for looked-after children can be the start of a journey of recovery and it’s time Scotland’s policy and practice improved.”

Among the recommendations for the Scottish Government, local authorities and NHS Scotland, Barnardo’s is calling for the creation of a consistent system for evaluation across Scotland, including recording how a health assessment has affected a child’s care plan.

They also argue health assessments should take place face-to-face, rather than over the phone, which should be used as a “last resort”.

Responding to the findings of her FOI requests, Ms Lennon said: “All children deserve to grow up in a loving and nurturing environment – and the independent care review, informed by those with lived experience of care, has outlined a way for that ambition to become a reality for all looked after children in Scotland.

“Worryingly, the findings of this research reveal a huge level of inconsistency and a general lack of data about the health and emotional wellbeing of looked after children.

“It’s clear we need to see significant improvements to ensure that our commitments to looked after children are delivered.

“I urge Scottish ministers to act on the findings of the Barnardo’s Scotland report so that improving mental health outcomes for looked after children is made a reality.”

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