Children living in care are more likely to have problems with their mental health than children who aren't in care. And if we don't help children and young people early enough then these problems can get worse.

If a placement breaks down it can have a detrimental impact on a child's emotional wellbeing and mental health. It can also mean increased costs to the system to find a new placement. And if a child's mental health grows worse they may need increasingly specialist placements.

We believe we all have a responsibility to break this cycle. We want to inspire system change to support good emotional wellbeing for all looked after children and to keep their placements stable.

illustration of weather

Children in care are 4 times more likely than their peers to have a mental health difficulty

Explanation: The Office of National Statistics conducted research on the mental health of young people, aged 5-17, looked after by local authorities (Meltzer, H. et al, 2003Meltzer, H et al, 2004a and Meltzer et al, 2004b).

The research found that 45% of looked after children in England, 45% of looked after children in Scotland and 49% of looked after children in Wales had a mental disorder. This included: clinically significant conduct disorders; emotional disorders (anxiety and depression); hyperactivity and less common disorders (pervasive developmental disorders, tics and eating disorders).

This compares to a rate of 10% for children aged 5-16 living in private households in Great Britain. This figure is from research conducted by the Office of National Statistics (Green, H. et al, 2005). Children living in foster care were excluded from this survey.

Building new evidence about what works

We've trialled a new intervention model called Face to Face, which offers short-term support to children in care using a solution-focused approach. We've been measuring how Face to Face has supported improvements in looked after children's emotional wellbeing so we can help more children.

Find out more about how we've evaluated the impact of Face to Face.

Exploring a whole system approach

We've partnered with 4 local authorities in the UK to explore how we can take a whole system approach to promoting good emotional wellbeing for looked after children.

Our report identified 5 key priorities for system change:

  1. embed an emphasis on emotional wellbeing throughout the system
  2. take a proactive and preventative approach
  3. give children and young people voice and influence
  4. support and sustain children's relationships
  5. support care leavers' emotional needs.

Read more on Achieving emotional wellbeing for looked after children: a whole system approach.

Research on the emotional wellbeing of children in care

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

We report on our work with 4 UK local authorities to design a care system that better promotes the emotional wellbeing of children in care. Part of the NSPCC’s Impact and evidence series.
Find out more

What works in preventing and treating poor mental health in looked after children?

Overview of the evidence about what works in preventing and treating poor mental health of children in care.
Find out more

Promoting the wellbeing of children in care: messages from research

A book presenting chapters from academics, practitioners and policy analysts on how we can improve care for looked after children in the UK.
Find out more

More about children in care


Find out how many children are living in care in the UK, and other statistics about looked after children.

Read more

Research and resources

Research, reports and resources about children in care.

Read research and resources

Legislation, policy and guidance

Legislation, policy and guidance around children in care.
What's the law on children in care?

Support for professionals


Our Current Awareness Service for Practice, Policy And Research delivers free weekly email alerts to keep you up-to-date with all the latest safeguarding and child protection news.

Sign up to CASPAR

Sign up to Case reviews update

Subscribe to our Case reviews update. A monthly update about case reviews added to the National collection of case reviews in the month and learning from case reviews briefings.
Sign up

Get online safeguarding training

Learn how children use the internet and how you can keep them safe from abuse.

Find out more

Information Service

Our free service for people who work with children can help you find the latest policy, practice, research and news on child protection and related subjects.

For more information, call us or email

0808 800 5000

Submit an enquiry

How safe are our children? Growing up online

Our annual flagship conference is for everyone working in child protection.

Find out more

Follow @NSPCCpro

Follow us on Twitter and keep up-to-date with all the latest news in child protection.

Follow @NSPCCpro on Twitter

Library catalogue

We hold the UK's largest collection of child protection resources and the only UK database specialising in published material on child protection, child abuse and child neglect.

Search the library

New in the Library

A free weekly email listing all of the new child protection publications added to our library collection.

Sign up to New in the Library

Helping you keep children safe

Read our guide for professionals on what we do and the ways we can work with you to protect children and prevent abuse and neglect.

Read our guide (PDF)

Impact and evidence

Find out how we evaluate and research the impact we’re making in protecting children, get tips and tools for researchers and access resources.

Our impact and evidence

Training and consultancy

Grow your child protection knowledge and skills with CPD certified courses delivered by our experts nationwide and online.
Get expert training

Sharing knowledge to keep children safe

Read our guide to the NSPCC Knowledge and Information Service to find out how we can help you with child protection queries, support your research, and help you learn and develop.

Read our guide (PDF)


  1. Green, H. et al (2005) Mental health of children and young people in Great Britain, 2004 (PDF). [London]: Office for National Statistics (ONS).

  2. Meltzer, H. et al (2004a) The mental health of young people looked after by local authorities in Wales (PDF). London: The Stationery Office (TSO).

  3. Meltzer, H. et al (2004b) The mental health of young people looked after by local authorities in Scotland (PDF). London: The Stationery Office (TSO).

  4. Meltzer, H. et al. (2003) The mental health of young people looked after by local authorities in England (PDF). London: The Stationery Office (TSO).