Our manifesto outlines “22 ways to build resilience and aspiration in people and communities” across five key areas. Download your copy.

Dismiss close

Care leavers

Care experience and post-18 mental health

Full length portrait of a young woman talking to mature psychologist in therapy session.

The event was held by the Drive Forward Foundation and National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum. 54 people attended the event including representatives from children’s social care, health services, the third sector and care experienced young people.

Speakers included:

  • Care experienced young people,
  • Mark Riddell, National Implementation Adviser for Care Leavers,
  • Josh MacAlister, Chair of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care
  • Becca Randell – Kent, Surrey and Sussex Implementation Lead – Starting Well
  • Claire Murdoch, NHS England National Mental Health Director (via video message)

“In terms of mental health, nearly half of looked after children meet the criteria for a psychiatric disorder. In comparison, one in ten children who are not looked after suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder.”

– Page 15, Case for Change, Independent Review of Children’s Social Care

Care Experienced young people from Young Person’s Benchmarking Forum (part of NLCBF) identified mental health as their primary priority for Local Authorities to be address coming out of COVID-19.

Farhia’s story

“Everything was going well until I was 18 and 19… My placement broke down so I ended up moving into my own accommodation.. I had to go back to another area, where I had priority housing. I then couldn’t access the CBT I was accessing because it was from a different area. When I sought support, they said I needed to wait at the bottom of the list again. This was at a time when I was living on my own and there was no support around me. I had to drop out of uni for a year.

“I ended up being admitted into hospital multiple times… that was absolutely hell to go through and after having that emergency therapy I slowly started recovering, I went back to uni and finished my degree and worked as a midwife and I was slowly getting my life together.

“Then lockdown came along, as a care leaver you tend to live on your own – and you’re less likely to have support and lockdown really amplified that. I got my care notes in the middle of lockdown & I wasn’t allowed at the time to visit anyone and my mental health took a massive dip and I went into another crisis. I decided to pay for private therapy because I wasn’t severe enough to access emergency therapy and I didn’t want to have to go through the experience of going in and out of hospital again.

“I did get decent help when I was a child in care, You can have the best experience in care – the best foster carer, the best support network, but trauma does not disappear overnight and it takes time to treat that and even though I did get good support when I was young, but that support didn’t last.

“A lot of times when I accessed mental health services, they didn’t even know what ‘care leavers’ were and they were not sensitive to the idea that we were sensitive to attachment – so I would have a stream of mental health nurses who would come and go, not realising that that was causing me more psychological damage because it was mirroring experiences I had in the care system.

“A lot of times the sessions would be – 10 sessions or 6 sessions of CBT – If you know most care leavers it would take those sessions telling you my history. It needs to be something that is longer term and that people who are providing this have knowledge of how to support care leavers and know the nuances of being in care and the unique psychological difficulties it can bring.”


  1. Dedicated mental health provision for care experienced young people – dedicated trauma informed mental health provision for care experienced young people, where possible co-located with leaving care teams.
  2. Emotional wellbeing and early intervention – invest in early intervention and emotional wellbeing services for care experienced young people.
  3. Integration and communication – closer working between leaving care teams and Integrated Commissioning Services; Integrated Commissioning Service involvement on Corporate Parenting Board.
  4. Duty for multiagencies to support care leavers – introduce new duties within Corporate Parenting Principles for agencies including health to support care leavers.
  5. Care Leavers Lead in NHS England, and Champion in each Integrated Commissioning Service – using model seen in HMPPS; explore if NHS model of support for veterans could be used to shape services for care experienced young people.
  6. Co-production of services – co-produce services with care experienced young people.
  7. Staff training – improved training for leaving care teams and foster carers around mental health, and training for mental health teams on impact of care experience.
  8. Accommodation and wider issues – recognise impact of wider issues including accommodation and staff changes has on the mental health of care experienced young people, and seek to address these.
  9. Support across lifetime for people with care experience – a lifetime offer of trauma-informed support for care experienced adults, which understands the impact of care experience.
  10. Establish a model of Virtual Mental Health Leads within children’s services – similar to Virtual School Heads role.

“We’ve got to think about corporate parenting – Is this good enough for our kids and if we were really honest with ourselves, we’d have to say that the health approach across the country – apart from some examples of innovation – we’d have to say this is not the best offer for our kids – so I’ve got something to do with the policy team and the Ministerial Board to push ministers even further in that context.”

– Mark Riddell, National Implementation Adviser for Care Leavers

Pledges from event attendees

  • Start the conversation between children’s and health commissioners
  • to connect with other services mentioned today
  • secure more funding to expand into new local authority areas
  • support best practice work and advocate for ways of working that make a difference
  • listen and work in co-production with care experienced population
  • attend workshops/training to improve practice
  • do participation differently
  • challenge the care leavers mental health lead in the local authority – is it good enough?
  • look at helping scope out research questions and fund research in mental health of care experienced young people
  • evidencing the difficulties we know are happening on the ground
  • use Barnardos Neglected Minds Research to inform service improvements
  • training for the service in emotional coaching
  • meet with adult mental health team to agree funding to make mental health practitioner role full time
  • starting the conversation and recognise common challenges and find collaborative solutions

Next steps

  1. Submit this paper to Independent Review of Children’s Social Care’s ‘Call for Ideas’
  2. Meet with representatives from Children and Young People’s Mental Health Programme, NHS England
  3. Share the findings with NHS England Mental Health Director
  4. Explore ways to continue this conversation with representatives from social care, health and third sector

“We have to think differently and creatively with children in care and care leavers, because it’s not inevitable that their outcomes will be poorer. We can change that, we can change that together. We are working with our local authorities because we know a great deal of what we do needs to be in partnership with them. Young People should not be experiencing fragmentation.”

– Claire Murdoch, NHS England National Mental Health Director via video message

Continue reading