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Practitioner perspectives on the nature, causes and the impact of poor mental health and emotional wellbeing on children and young people in contact with children's social care: A qualitative study.

BACKGROUND: Children and young people (CYP) who are in contact with social care are at higher risk of developing mental health difficulties compared to the general population. This has been attributed to their experience of significant childhood adversity. With an increased likelihood of experiencing poorer health outcomes which can persist into adulthood, it is crucial that key factors for their positive mental health development are identified.

OBJECTIVE: To identify factors associated with the poor mental health of CYP in contact with social care from the perspective of practitioners working in children's social care and mental health.

PARTICIPANTS AND SETTING: Social care and mental health practitioners; three Local Authorities across the North-East of England.

METHODS: Four focus groups were conducted with 23 practitioners between April and May 2022. A semi-structured topic guide exploring the nature and associated factors of mental health was used to focus discussion. Data were thematically analysed and informed by the four levels of the socio-ecological model.

RESULTS: Individual level risk factors were associated with the CYP's emotional health and included what practitioners described as the 'sense of shame'. Interpersonal level risk factors were most recurrent and included parental factors within the home environment. Community level risk factors consisted of characteristics of settings and institutions that increased the risk of the CYP developing mental health and wellbeing difficulties. Societal level risk factors included broader societal factors such as poverty. Practitioners maintained that certain protective factors possessed or developed by CYP including secure attachments, prevent the development of mental health difficulties.

CONCLUSIONS: Our current study provides strong evidence for the interlinkage between multiple levels of risk and their interacting impact on the CYP's mental health and emotional wellbeing. It is imperative that this, and the need to strengthen protective factors, whilst reducing risks are carefully considered for the development of effective support interventions for CYP in contact with social care.

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