Mental Health of street Children in selected residential care in Lusaka Province
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Previous research has established high mental health problems and needs of children in residential care. However, in Zambia little is known about the mental health of this peculiar group of children. The study prescribed in this paper aimed to explore the mental health problems/disorders in residential care for street children and to examine the service response to their mental health needs. The study utilized a sample of 74 (68 boys and 6 girls) street children in residential care aged 7-17 years. To collect data on children’s mental health problems and needs, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) was administered to agency carers and adolescents (if older than 11). Data on mental health service provision was obtained from children’s case files and semi structured interviews with residential care managers. Nearly three quarters of street children in residential care were rated as having a mental health problem, as indicated by findings from both the self rated SDQ and the Carers’ SDQ. Out of this sample, a considerable number (about one third) had multiple mental health problems which indicated significant levels of impairment. The most frequent mental health problems/disorders were behavioural and emotional problems. The study also found a strong relationship between multiple mental health problems (co-morbidity) and the impact of these problems on the children. Residential care managers reported that there were no referral centres for children with complex mental health problems. The study results also indicated that some residential centres lacked trained personnel to deal with mental health problems among children and adolescents. In addition, all the residential centres had financial challenges to effectively implement programmes. The researcher concluded that street children in residential care are a high risk population to mental health problems. In addition, children with multiple mental health problems are likely to perform poorly in terms of social functioning compared with those with less or without mental health problems. Further, the the mental health services for street children in residential care were not matching to the needs of the children.