Looked after or overlooked? An exploratory investigation of the mentalhealth issues of adolescents living in state care in Northern Ireland

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16 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

There is consistent evidence that the rate of emotional, social and behavioural problems found in children and adolescents in out-of-home placements or state care is substantially higher than that of children and adolescents living with their families. However, with a few small-scale studies as exceptions, to date there has been little research carried out into the mental health needs of adolescents living in state care in Northern Ireland. This study aimed to examine the mental health needs of young people aged between 10 and 15 years living in state care in Northern Ireland. Data were collected on 165 adolescents via an analysis of case file data, questionnaires and interviews with social workers. It was found that the 70.3% of the young people scored within the abnormal and borderline ranges of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) total difficulties score indicating “high risk” for meeting the criteria for a psychiatric diagnosis. Over the course of 1 year living in state care, 10 of the 165 adolescents had attempted suicide and 14 had engaged in deliberate self-harm. Nevertheless, social workers still rated the vast majority (92%) of these young people's overall health as being “as good as”, or “better than” other young people in their age. It is concluded that as this group of young people have significant contact with health and social services, potential opportunities exist to develop the therapeutic potential of the experience of being “looked after” in state care. They are a uniquely vulnerable group and their care and treatment may be considered as a minority rights issue which deserves a higher profile in the human rights agenda.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)497 -506
JournalPsychology, Health and Medicine
Volume5
Issue number15
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2010

Bibliographical note

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Keywords

  • adolescents
  • mental health
  • state care
  • Northern Ireland
  • children’s rights

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