Glossop Advertiser - - News - Rob Jack­son

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.

Rob Jack­son

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