Are mental health services for young people in care getting better?

graphic of six hand-drawn children's facesIn mid-February 2012, the Guardian published a report on The Unmet Need in Mental Health Services for Children and Young People in Care  based on a 2011 audit of 60 case files of children and young people in care which is available for download

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The audit uncovered some examples of very good practice but it also showed a pattern of delayed and ad hoc assessment and service provision. Many young people did not receive comprehensive psychological assessments and  the median time between the assessment recommendations and the first service was five months.  The case files demonstrated the need for more active management of mental health problems.  This included prompt referrals following assessment and regular joint child protection and mental health service reviews of progress on recommendations and referrals.

At the same time as the Guardian’s report was being written, Families SA was developing a framework for the provision of therapy services which promised to address waitlists and reduce the time between the identification of mental health concerns and the provision of services.  It proposed to enhance clinical assessment and quickly match the young person to a suitable service provider by means of a triage panel comprising mental health professionals from a range of services.  The proposed framework would also ensure that the young person’s progress would be monitored and the performance of the triage system itself scrutinised.

By September 2012, the Families SA Therapy Framework had reached final draft stage in consultation with the major government and non-government service providers but little has changed for young people in need of mental health services since the publication of the Guardian’s February 2012 report.

‘The triage model has been in use internally by Families SA Psychological Services for about six months now and to date the process has considered a small number of referrals for young people’, said Nicole Stasiak, Director Statewide Services in Families SA, ‘and we have learned some valuable lessons on how triage can work.’

Families SA has also developed a training package to upskill staff in the care and protection system who have not had therapy experience.

‘The Framework has been merged into the Families SA Redesign Program and is now known as the Therapeutic Services Project and the triage panel model remains a major part,’  said Ms Stasiak

‘By September 2013 the triage panel will  include representatives from government and non-government mental health service providers.  It  will be allocating referrals,  monitoring the progress of young people and evaluating and  reporting on the performance of the system and providers.’

Case files examined in the Guardian’s 2011 audit demonstrated inconsistency in the effectiveness of case work, failing to ensure that assessments were done, to follow up on referrals or to integrate the therapeutic services into case planning or work in other areas of the young people’s lives.

We will follow up the issue of mental health services for young people in our Twitter feed.

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