Impacting policy: mental health of children known to social services in Northern Ireland
13 December 2021
Researchers in Northern Ireland are utilising over 30 years of population-wide linked social services, primary care, prescription medication, hospital, and mortality data to explore the mental health outcomes of children known to social services.
Led by Dr Aideen Maguire, this research aims to explore the mental health of children while they are in the care of social services. It will also investigate the long-term mental health and mortality risks associated with exposure to social services interventions in childhood. Early findings have already been used to inform the new strategy for care-experienced children and young people published in 2021.
The cohort consists of 1,508,850 individuals born between 1970 and 2015 who were followed up until December 2019, with primary care and mortality data for the entire period. This was linked with social services data from 1985-2015, and prescription and hospital data from 2010-2019.
Preliminary analysis has found that almost one in ten (9.4%) individuals aged under 45 years in Northern Ireland are or have been known to social services.
In a previous Data Insight, researchers found that receipt of antidepressant medications was 10 times higher in looked after children compared to those not known to social services. In addition, the rate of self-harm in looked after children was 25 times higher compared to those not known to social services. All-cause mortality was highest in those with a history of being looked after, and suicide risk in particular was strongly associated with exposure to social services.
These findings were used to inform the new strategy for care-experienced children and young people published in 2021, “A Life Deserved: “Caring” for Children and young people in Northern Ireland”. Providing empirical evidence helps to set measurable goals that can be used to evaluate the impact of interventions to improve mental health in this cohort.
This research was undertaken by researchers at Queen’s University Belfast using administrative data made available via the Business Services Organisation’s (BSO) Honest Broker Service (HBS).
Publications and articles
- Department of Health and Department of Education: “A Life Deserved: “Caring” for Children and young people in Northern Ireland, February 2021
- Mental Health Champion: Mental Health in Northern Ireland Fundamental Facts 2023, October 2023
Read more in the related Data Insights: