Achieving emotional wellbeing for looked after children: a whole system approach

Topics: Looked after children Mental health Safeguarding and child protection

What works in promoting good emotional wellbeing and mental health for children in care

Children in care are four times more likely to have a mental health problem than children living with their birth families. These mental health needs are often unmet, which increases children’s risk of a variety of poor outcomes including placement instability and poor educational attainment.

This report provides recommendations and evidence for how the care system can be changed to prioritise and achieve good emotional wellbeing for all looked after children and care leavers. It is part of our Impact and evidence series.

Authors: Louise Bazalgette, Tom Rahilly and Grace Trevelyan
Published: 2015

Key findings

We worked with four local authorities in the UK to investigate how to redesign the care system to improve support for the emotional wellbeing of looked after children.

Our project involved asking children in care, care leavers, carers and professionals from health, social care and education services about their experience of the care system and what changes they would like to see.


  • The emotional wellbeing and mental health of looked after children should not be thought of as the responsibility of specialist mental health services. We need a whole system across social care and health that prioritises the emotional wellbeing of children in care and care leavers.
  • An estimated £6.4 million each year could be saved in the UK if children's mental health needs were met and as a result they stayed in a stable placement.

Five priorities for change

  • Embed an emphasis on emotional wellbeing throughout the system
    Professionals working in the care system need the skills and knowledge to understand how they can support the emotional wellbeing of looked after children and young people.
  • Take a proactive and preventative approach
    Support for looked after children should begin with a thorough assessment of their emotional and mental health needs.
  • Give children and young people voice and influence
    Looked after children and young people need more opportunities to identify what is important to them and influence their own care.
  • Support and sustain children’s relationships
    Children’s carers require training and support to be sensitive, understanding and resilient.
  • Support care leavers’ emotional needs
    Help young people identify and strengthen their support networks.


"Sometimes people think children in care are different. But that’s wrong. Everyone deserves to be listened to."

Young person in care


Please cite as: Bazalgette, L., Rahilly, T. and Trevelyan, G. (2015) Achieving emotional wellbeing for looked after children: a whole system approach. London: NSPCC.