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New co-chairs announced for expert working group on the mental health of looked-after children

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Alison O’Sullivan and Professor Peter Fonagy have been appointed as the new co-chairs of the Expert Working Group for Looked-After Children. Alison O’Sullivan is the former president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) and Professor Peter Fonagy is a psychologist and medical researcher.

The group will bring together a wide range of experts, drawing on evidence from children and young people and the people who care for them, in order to consider how to improve access to mental health and wellbeing services for the following vulnerable groups:

  • Looked-after children
  • Children adopted from care
  • Care leavers
  • Children leaving care under a special Guardianship Order or Child Arrangements Order.

The group will consider the most appropriate models of care for these groups with the aim of recommending care pathways and a quality standard for them. Children and young people will be involved throughout, helping decide what will be offered; how it will be provided; how they and their family will be involved in decision-making; and how different professionals should work together.

This work is based on the recommendations of Future in mind, which identified the need for appropriate, new and evidence-based care, to make sure that the country’s most vulnerable children get the mental health support that they need. The Department of Health, Department for Education, NHS England, Health Education England and colleagues from ADCS and LGA are working together to bring this about.

Alistair Burt, Minister for Mental Health, said:

As I have said since coming into post last spring, children’s mental health is one of my priorities, and last year’s Future in Mind report set out the importance of getting mental health care right for the most vulnerable young people. I am looking forward to seeing the energy, profile and experience that Peter, Alison and the expert members are going to bring to make genuine headway with this important piece of work.

Edward Timpson, Minister for Children and Families, said:

Having grown up with over 80 fostered brothers and sisters, I know that children in care have often lived through difficult, traumatic experiences, which don’t just disappear once they’re placed in a loving stable home. The expert group has real potential to change the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in our country, ensuring they get the help and support they need to achieve better mental health, so they can reach their full potential. I’m delighted that Alison and Peter have accepted the invitation to co-chair the group – bringing with them a wealth of social care, psychology and research knowledge and experience.

The expert group will hold its first meeting in June and will begin work on a plan for change. Details of what has been discussed and agreed by group members will be published online after each meeting.

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