THE CHILDREN’S SOCIETY
MANY of us who are mums and dads will think of our children as being ‘vulnerable’ in one way or another.
Be it the challenges of starting a new school, doing exams, fitting in with others or negotiating those often difficult teenage years, growing up is rarely easy.
But some children and young people face a particularly difficult start in life which can leave them even more vulnerable to a number of different risks.
At The Children’s Society we know this only too well because we offer vital support to hundreds of really vulnerable children in Greater Manchester every year.
I was still shocked, however, by a new report by The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, which found that 580,000 children – equivalent to the population of Manchester – are so vulnerable the state has to step in and provide direct care.
The report looks at research on the number of children affected by different types of vulnerability.
We offer support to children and families experiencing a number of these issues in Greater Manchester – such as those in care, refugees and those who have experienced domestic or sexual abuse.
The report rightly argues that identifying children who are vulnerable and understanding the reasons for this are crucial in ensuring families get vital support from children’s services, the police and voluntary sector organisations like The Children’s Society.
We know from our frontline work that the Children’s Commissioner is correct in highlighting that the real numbers of vulnerable children are likely to be even higher.
Many will be ‘hidden’ because they are unknown to professionals.
Through our support for children who run away from home in Greater Manchester we know that many are still not reported missing by their parents or carers.
Nationally, it has been estimated that two-thirds of children who go missing are not reported.
We can also identify with the finding that many vulnerable children experience several risks at the same time.
For instance a young person who goes missing can be at particular risk of child sexual exploitation, and of misusing drugs and alcohol – which can sometimes be used by perpetrators as part of the grooming process.
However, support services do not always identify and address all of these needs in the round.
We are also concerned that while risks increase ● help often dwindles for older and very vulnerable teenagers as professionals may wrongly see them as more resilient.
Unfortunately, funding for preventative support which addresses issues in children’s lives before they become more serious has been cut by government in recent years.
At the same time, factors which can add to children’s vulnerability, such as rising child poverty, use of social media to groom children and a deterioration in children’s mental health and wellbeing, have added to the risks.
More investment is needed from government to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of all vulnerable children, including adolescents and give them the stable platform they need to thrive and fulfil their potential.
This could also save taxpayers’ money if the support children and families receive helps to relieve pressure upon publicly-funded services in the future, be it mental health services, or the criminal justice or benefits systems.
But it is crucial that this funding is targeted in the right way to deal with the complexity of the risks faced by the really vulnerable children behind these alarming statistics.