LATE teenage years can be an awkward age for young people as they approach adulthood and seek greater independence.
As a dad of three I may well have these trials and tribulations ahead.
But I know from our work at The Children’s Society that this age can be even more difficult for vulnerable teenagers.
Our new report, Crumbling Futures, highlights how help too often falls short for 58,000 young people aged 16 and 17 who are not in care but are still designated as ‘children in need’ by councils. This means that without support their health and development may suffer.
While issues may not yet have escalated to the extent that it is no longer considered to be safe or in their best interests to remain with their family, they may still face many challenges.
These can be different to those faced by younger children, ranging from mental health issues and substance misuse to child sexual exploitation, poverty and homelessness.
Nationally, one in five ‘children in need’ are aged 16-17, which means there could be around 3,600 young people in this position in Greater Manchester.
The report - part of our Seriously Awkward campaign, which aims to improve support for 16-17-year-olds - says professionals sometimes consider these children as old enough to cope, which we know isn’t always the case.
We have concerns that support often ends too soon for those on child in need and child protection plans, cutting them off from vital services such as family mediation, therapy, and support with issues like drug and alcohol misuse and going missing.
Data from councils which responded to our enquiries shows that nearly four in 10 child in need plans for 16-17-yearolds lasted for less than three months in 2016/17.
While problems do not magically disappear when children turn 18, any support usually vanishes completely because there is no requirement for councils to support most young adults.
Councils don’t routinely keep tabs on what happens to these young people as adults, but information from a small number of authorities suggests that they are less likely than most other children to access education, employment or training, and more likely to claim benefits and face homelessness.
We’re also seriously concerned that some young people in real need aren’t getting any help at all.
Although more than half of 16-17-year-olds referred had been accepted as a child in need, one in seven of all young people referred were not even assessed for support.
So, what can be done to address this worrying situation?
The Government’s recently announced review aimed at improving educational outcomes for children in need is welcome, but we would like ministers to consider specifically how 16-17-year-olds can be better supported, and to examine all aspects of their lives.
Councils and other organisations should be given the resources they need to address health, housing, employment and safeguarding needs - with consideration given to extending key services offering help with these issues to the age of 25.
We want all 16-17-yearolds referred to councils to receive an assessment with a focus on risks, mental health, family relationships and risk of poverty.
Child in need and child protection plans should last until at least a young person’s 18th birthday to ensure there is sustained support.
While extra government investment will be needed, having to tackle problems like mental health in adulthood when they are more deeply ingrained may be even more costly.
And it’s hard to put a price on support which will help young people overcome challenges and secure a happier future. ●