Support falls short for vulnerable older teenagers, says Children's Society

By agency reporter
March 21, 2018

Tens of thousands of older teenagers facing serious risks including child sexual exploitation and mental health issues are missing out on vital support according to a new report.

The Children’s Society found that help is too often falling short for many of the 58,000 children aged 16 and 17 who are not in care but are designated as ‘children in need’ by councils.

The charity’s new report, Crumbling Futures, found that support often disappears completely when they turn 18 because in most cases there is no statutory requirement for councils to offer young adults support.

It includes data from councils which shows that many of these young people face challenges in their lives, including problems which are less prevalent in assessments of younger children such as mental health issues, sexual exploitation and drug-use.

The report finds how problems experienced by 16-17-year-olds often persist when they turn 18 based on new analysis of the Understanding Society survey, which asks teenagers about their well-being over a number of years

One young person told the charity: “We are still kids, we all still need help.  Just because we’ve lived with our parents longer than people in care did, doesn’t make any difference.  We are still left on our own not knowing what to do.  So I do not know why it’s so big a gap between support?  I think it is ridiculous to be palmed off at 18.”

The Children’s Society is calling for the Government to broaden its newly announced review of support for children in need and to consider how 16-17-year-olds can be better supported into adult life.

While the review is focusing on improving how well children in need do in education, the charity wants it to look at all aspects of their lives where help is falling short.

The Children’s Society says councils should be required to plan for young people’s transition to adulthood and to address their health, housing, employment and safeguarding needs, as well as their education and skills – with consideration given to extending key services to the age of 25.

The report, part of the charity’s Seriously Awkward campaign, is also recommending that child in need and child protection plans agreed when a young person is 16 or 17 should last until the age of 18.

Crumbling Futures highlights that the different situations faced by 16-17-year-olds, including living independently for the first time, moving into employment or training, or claiming benefits, are often not dealt with adequately by professionals, who may mistakenly consider these young people as being old enough to look after themselves.  Issues like homelessness and poverty are not identified in assessments of children referred to social services meaning they may not get the help they need to address these problems.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive at The Children’s Society, said: “Approaching adulthood can be a difficult, awkward, time for many teenagers, but it can be even tougher if young people don’t get the help they need to deal with serious issues in their lives.

“Help for vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds who are not in care too often falls short then disappears from the age of 18 as they continue to struggle with issues including mental health, sexual exploitation, poverty and homelessness.

“The Children’s Society wants to see better support for children in need as they prepare for adulthood and a comprehensive package of help after they turn 18 - with councils given the additional money they need to deliver this.

“Only then will more young people get the vital support they need to ensure problems arising from their childhood are addressed and do not blight their chances of thriving in the future.”

Data supplied by councils which responded to The Children’s Society’s Freedom of Information (FOI) requests shows that nearly four in 10 child in need plans for 16-17-year-olds last for less than three months.  More than a third of young people of this age referred to children’s services had previously been referred in the last two years – possibly because the help offered earlier was not sufficient or an earlier referral was rejected and the child’s needs escalated.

The situation does not improve post-18, with less than three per cent of closed cases involving 16 and 17-year-olds being transferred to adult services. 

Analysis of the Understanding Society survey, found that one in five of all young people aged 16-17 – equivalent to 240,000 across England – faced more than five challenges in their lives in 2014/15.

Yet based on population statistics in the council areas which responded to its FOI requests, The Children’s Society estimates that only onne in 16 young people aged 16-17 are referred to children’s services.  Among those councils which responded, only just over half of these 16 and 17-year-olds were accepted as children in need. 

In one in seven cases, a decision not to offer support was made without an assessment of the child’s needs. The Children’s Society’s wants all children referred to children’s services to receive an assessment with a focus on identifying safeguarding risks, mental health, difficulties with family relationships and risks of poverty. 

Analysis of Understanding Society reveals that many problems continue when young people turn 18. 

However, the Children’s Society wants the Government to carry out more research specifically into outcomes for children in need as councils are under no obligation to collect this information.  Data supplied by a small number of authorities suggests that compared to other children these young people are less likely to do well in their GCSEs or to be in education, employment or training and more likely to claim benefits and experience homelessness.

The Children’s Society is now planning further research involving 16 and 17-year-olds to establish what support makes a difference and is keen to work with councils to develop and test solutions.

* Read Crumbling Futures here

* The Children's Society https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/

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