Addressing the mental health needs of looked after children in foster care: the experiences of foster carers

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Accessible summary

What is known on the subject?

What does this paper add to existing knowledge?

What are the implications for practice?


Despite well-documented vulnerabilities to mental health problems among the increasing population of looked after children, there continues to be poor uptake and utilization of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).


To elicit views of foster carers regarding the mental health needs of children and adolescents in their care and their experiences of accessing mental health services.


A grounded theory approach and semistructured interviews with ten foster carers.


The experience of being a foster carer was the core category, with three major themes: (1) foster carers’ psychological understanding of challenging behaviour; (2) barriers to accessing CAMHS; (3) the importance of support.


A key finding of this research is that barriers to accessing CAMHS were not experienced at the point of referral, but once within the mental health system. The foster carers demonstrated a proactive approach to accessing services but expressed a need for more support structures related directly to the viability of the placement.

Implications for practice:

Mental health nurses have a pivotal role in providing a more responsive and needs-led service for this population; professional support to foster carers to include facilitating peer support; and clinical interventions for the looked after children.

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