How Members are Influencing Mental Health Policy and Practice

We all want to lead happy, healthy lives and to have the support we need for our mental health whenever we need it. This is the world our members want to see for all Care Experienced people, who can face greater need for mental health support.

For several years, Care Experienced members of our organisation have been calling for changes to how their mental health is supported. Members also told us through our National Membership Survey and Members’ Assembly in 2021 that they want to influence change around mental health.

To build on this knowledge, we have developed a national picture by offering different participation opportunities for Care Experienced people to share their views and experiences on mental health. This was delivered as part of our Annual Participation Programme in 2021.

We’ve broken down some of our key findings here, and you can also read the report in full: Tend our Light’ Mental Health Findings from our Annual Participation Programme.

(If you require an alternative version of the report for accessibility, please contact policy@whocaresscotland.org).

Content note: some views and experiences shared in this report are sensitive and may be difficult to read, including references to self-harm and suicidal feelings. Please be conscious of how you feel before reading the report and step away when you need to. There are details of specialist organisations who can provide support at the end of the report.

What did we find out?

Care Experienced people spoke to us about how they describe and understand mental health, how and if their care experience has impacted their mental health and what their views are about the different services and supports out there. Importantly, we asked what would make things better and where should we focus on calling for change.

What could the future look like?

From views that have been shared with us about the changes Care Experienced people want to see, we have shaped recommendations alongside members of our National Representative Body. These asks will be shared publicly for the first time at our Festival of Care in 2022.

We offer seven tangible ways for Scotland to understand how to ‘Tend the Light’ for Care Experienced people:

  1. Dedicated mental health services for Care Experienced people
  2. Lifelong mental health support for Care Experienced people
  3. Every child in care pro-actively offered mental health support
  4. Supporting loving relationships for Care Experienced people
  5. Tailored and specialist mental health training about care experience
  6. Mental health education for Care Experienced people
  7. The right to choose mental health support and access it quickly

Why is it important to focus on mental health?

When asked in what way they felt experience of care had affected their mental health, Care Experienced people spoke about trauma and adversity, challenges with feeling loved and belonging, and the impact of being stigmatised due to their care experience. Every child has the right to grow up feeling safe in a family environment, free from discrimination, and in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding. The experiences shared with us show there are needs for some individuals with care experience which have not been met, and which prevent them from having their rights fully realised, so that they can thrive with positive mental health.

79% of online survey respondents said that poor mental health impacted how they make and keep friends. Being Care Experienced has meant many young people have been less likely to experience loving relationships, and experiences lean more to being unsupported, isolated, and lonely.

There were some positive experiences of the impact of care on members’ mental health, with a few participants finding care to be an escape from a negative situation and supporting them towards positive achievements, and that they had mental strength from going through tough experiences.

We consistently heard that access to mental health services is challenging and an area that needs serious change, with almost 7/10 respondents telling us they were unable to access mental health support they need, with a lack of availability and access criteria being too strict.

What’s next?

If Scotland commits to realising the 7 recommendations in this report and we secure commitment from those who have power to make change happen, together we could create a world where Care Experienced people can thrive in life.

‘It takes a village to raise a child and Corporate Parents and professionals should take on that mentality going forward when working with Care Experienced people.’

We will be sharing these findings with Corporate Parents, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee and other key decision-makers who we know have the power to make the changes asked for.

We have also been able to share this evidence with our Training and Education team, who have put on two mental health training events for Corporate Parents – with more to come. The Promise are also focusing on mental health for Care Experienced people and want to work with us closely on this in the future.

This will include influencing:

  • Scottish Government’s refresh of the Mental Health Strategy 2017-27
  • Scotland’s new Suicide Prevention Strategy
  • The Children and Young People’s Mental Health & Wellbeing: A Knowledge and Skills Framework for the Scottish Workforce by NHS Education for Scotland

Thank you again to every person who has shared their views on mental health, whether this year as part of the Annual Programme, or in the past, this has helped us shape a national evidence base of what our members think and feel about this important area!

If you have any questions about the Annual Participation Programme or want to get more involved, please e-mail us at policy@whocaresscotland.org, or speak to your WC?S worker.

With thanks to Scottish Local Authorities, funding partners and donors who make our work possible.