Self-Harm, Suicide Ideation and Suicidal Behaviours in Looked-After Children and Young People: Incidence, Prevalence and Prevention

Looked after children and young people (LACYP) are a vulnerable population. Entry into local authority care is associated with numerous adverse health, social, and economic outcomes across the life-course. There is evidence to suggest that status as a LACYP predicts self-harm, suicide ideation and attempts. This may be partly explained by the challenging life events encountered prior to entering care, but may also be a result of negative experiences whilst in the care system. At present self-harm and suicide in LACYP remains under-examined, and more research is required to contribute to preventative efforts and social care improvement.

Research Questions

The study seeks to answer the following research questions:

  1. What is the prevalence of self-harm, suicide ideation and suicidal behaviours in LACYP?
  2. What are the preventative and risk factors that influence self-harm, suicide ideation and suicidal behaviours within the context of public care?
  3. What are practitioners’ and carers’ experiences of assessing and intervening with, or caring for, LACYP who engage in self-harm, suicide ideation and suicidal behaviours?
  4. What is the acceptability of a training programme for enhancing awareness, assessment and intervention when working with or caring for LACYP who engage in self-harm, suicide ideation and suicidal behaviours?

Research Phases

The study comprises of four research components:

  1. Systematic review synthesising existing literature on the prevalence of self-harm, suicide ideation and suicidal behaviours in LACYP.
  2. Analysis of two UK child psychiatric morbidity surveys to compare prevalence, risk and protective factors amongst LACYP and those living in private homes.
  3. Interviews with public care practitioners and carers to explore experiences and professional needs regarding their work with, or care for, LACYP who experience self-harm, suicide ideation and suicidal behaviours.
  4. Development and delivery of a training course to support practitioners and carers. Although the proposed content of the training remains unspecified, it will likely include: awareness raising; identification of risk and protective factors; intervening with at-risk individuals; making a referral to specialised support services. Two training courses (1-2 days each) will be delivered to approximately 50 practitioners and carers. Pre-post evaluation will be conducted to assesses awareness; self-efficacy in identifying and intervening with at-risk individuals; and acceptability. Participants will also be asked to take part in a follow-up qualitative interview to identify necessary improvements.

Dr Rhiannon Evans. October 2014-October 2017. Funded by NISCHR