A new research project has been launched to help improve mental health and wellbeing support for children in the social care system.

The project, launched by The Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), Referrals and Outcomes for Adolescents and Children with Social Workers (COACHES) is set to run over four years.

It aims to reshape how mental health services are accessed and delivered to young people in care.

Dr Robbie Duschinsky, head of the Applied Social Science group, Primary Care Unit said: “Any children and young people who receive social services support experience mental health difficulties.

“And yet we know too little about the mental health care they receive from CAMHS; which treatments lead to positive change; and how much these treatments cost. 

“This project will lay essential foundations for the improvement of mental health services for children, and young people who may also have safeguarding needs.” 

Around 400,000 children are in the social care system in England at any one time.

The launch follows acknowledgement from the Independent Children’s Social Care Review that mental health is a key issue which young people who are in, or leaving care, have to deal with.

Specifically, the study will look at:

  • The factors which influence whether a young person’s referral to CAMHS is accepted or rejected.
  • Which treatments prove most helpful. 
  • The cost effectiveness of treatments.
  • How young people with social care involvement are presented in their CAMHS case notes.
  • The experiences of young people with social care involvement who receive treatment from CAMHS.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Dr Hana Patel, GP and mental health coach said: “Children who have involvement with social workers are already identified as having faced challenges and adversities which are additional stressors to their mental health. 

“CAMHS has a vital role to play in improving these children’s lives so it is vital they don’t face further barriers when being referred.”

The project is running in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, Kingston University, King’s College London, the National Children’s Bureau, the British Association of Social Workers and the Care Leavers Association.

The first results published in 2023 will analyse the challenges faced by young people in social care and the inequalities they face when trying to access CAMHS services.

Rick Hood, Professor of social work at Kingston University, said: “Access to effective mental health provision is crucial for improving treatment for vulnerable children.

“It requires robust evidence to underpin the partnership between children’s social care and CAMHS.

“This study will go a long way to providing that evidence and encouraging policies to strengthen services in this vital area.”