parentsproblemsSpending just £58 a week on a life coach for a looked after child could improve their mental health and behaviour, according to the findings of a pilot study in a residential children’s home.

Around 60% of looked after children in England have emotional and mental health problems - a rate four times higher than for children generally, according to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE). Despite this, large numbers of vulnerable young people fail to use CAMHS - Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services - and many frontline staff in homes have little understanding about it or what the services involve.

In order to help improve children’s level of engagement with CAMHS, and to explore how psychological therapies can help their outcomes, the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People's Services (C4EO), carried out a 12-month project in Whistler Walk Children’s Home in London, where a solution-focused approach emphasised positive actions instead of managing challenging behaviour.

A psychologist was recruited to work two days a week in the team as a life coach for sessions that explored listening skills, understanding the symptoms of depression, parenting styles and attachment theory. The life skills areas covered included understanding anxiety and managing panic attacks, dealing with loss, self-belief, coping skills, problem-solving skills and identifying triggers for anger.

A total of seven out of ten young people had between three and 15 sessions with the life coach - the cost of ten young people taking part was £27,619, or £58 per child a week.

The children reacted positively about having easy access to a professional on site, who was able to listen. Due to the success of the project, it has been extended to a full-time post which also covers St Mark‘s Children‘s Home in London. So far, levels of engagement are increasing, and children continue to be enthusiastic about the therapeutic talking time, as they can access more high-level CAMHS interventions, without the need for referrals or appointments.

Some of the comments from the children were: “Sometimes I keep everything, I don’t say anything. When I talk to you it comes out. When I talk it comes out of my heart because I keep it all in there.” Also, “It’s nice to talk to someone who listens seriously.”

However, given the complex needs of the children in care, C4EO acknowledges that these positive comments may not lead to improving results in the long-term, as it is a group with the highest needs, yet most difficult to engage. Yet positive feedback suggests it is making a difference - the project has also been successful in briding a gap between the mental health needs of looked after children and supporting appropriate training of frontline workers.

To find out more about C4EO, visit www.c4eo.org.uk