Doctoral trainee publishes research into care-leavers mental health

Sarah Butterworth

Sarah Butterworth, second-year trainee on the Clinical Psychology Doctorate course in the School of Psychology, has published a paper looking at the perspectives of young people transitioning out of social care services in the West Midlands. 

It is well known that young people with an experience of being in the UK care system often face numerous disadvantages in terms of their health, education and employment outcomes. This study sought the perspectives of 12 young people with mental health difficulties who had recently become care-leavers. Unfortunately this important transition of leaving the care system to becoming a care-leaver is not the only change for young people at 18 years. There is the change from social worker to aftercare advisor, yet another change in accommodation, for the many with mental health difficulties (45-80% of children in care) there is the transition from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to Adult Mental Health Services (AMHS) and another change of worker, and for those with youth-offending team (YOT) contact there is the transition from YOT to adult probation. Often in all this change the young person becomes lost. This study gives a voice to those navigating these multiple transitions at a time when their vulnerability to mental illness is elevated. 

The young people who took part in this study had multiple, high needs but reported that they did not feel well supported at this time and their mental health did not appear to be a priority. Their transition from children’s services was punctuated with feelings of abandonment, powerlessness and instability, with little joint work, communication or planning between teams, exacerbating their existing difficulties.  

Recommendations for the agencies involved included effective Pathway Planning, multiagency coordination, and clarity over the responsibility for mental health care and its coordination. Participants asked that youth mental health services span the social care transition; and provide continuity of mental health provision when care-leavers are at risk of feeling abandoned and isolated, suffering deteriorating mental health and struggling to establish new relationships with professionals. Young people say that the key to successful transition and achieving independence is maintaining trust and support from services.

The paper was published in Child and Adolescent Mental Health. Sarah is a second-year trainee on the Clinical Psychology Doctorate course. She is first author on the paper and there is a second paper to follow on staff experiences of working with care-leavers across various services.