Vulnerable yet forgotten? A systematic review identifying the lack of evidence for effective suicide interventions for young people in contact with child protection systems
Russell, D.H., Trew, S., & Higgins, D.J.
Children and young people in out-of-home care are at a higher risk of suicide than young people not involved with child protection systems. Despite this, there is a lack of evidence of effective suicide prevention interventions for this vulnerable population. We reviewed the types of suicide prevention interventions that have been used and evaluated with children and young people and staff and carers in out-of-home care/child protection systems. We conducted a systematic review of existing literature using PRISMA guidelines. Only five studies met the inclusion criteria. Two evaluated youth-focused interventions: emotional intelligence therapy; and multidimensional treatment foster care, while three evaluated adult-focused “gatekeeper training.” Youth-focused interventions led to reductions in suicidal thoughts (suicidal ideation), and adult-focused interventions led to increased knowledge, skills, and behaviors such as referring youth to supports. Only one study, one of the youth-focused ones, evaluated the impact of the intervention in terms of suicide attempts but found no reduction. Large numbers of children enter into care with a high risk of suicide. With the considerable overlap between the trauma characteristics and mental health needs of young people in out-of-home care and suicide risk factors in the general population of young people, we recommend developing (and evaluating) new or adapted existing suicide prevention interventions designed specifically for the out-of-home care context.