The Children’s Commissioner for England has warned thousands of teenagers are falling through the gaps in the school and social care system.
In a new report out today (7 July), Anne Longfield warns around 120,000 teenagers were already slipping out of sight before the pandemic started.
The Commissioner adds unless these children are re-engaged in society, a whole generation of vulnerable teens could stay at risk of educational failure and unemployment, or crime or exploitation.
In the report, Ms Longfield says she is concerned that these teenagers, who were slipping through existing gaps in the system, will remain ‘invisible’ even after the lockdown restrictions ease.
These are children who are likely to have needs which schools struggle to meet but who often do not reach the threshold for social service involvement. It also comes at a time when youth services funding has been cut by 60% over the last 10 years.
The report also analyses data on all teenagers aged 13-17 who were on the radar of schools and children’s social care in 2017/18.
It finds that 480,000 of these children had some kind of additional need, such as special educational need or disability (SEND), Child in Need (CIN) referral/episode, a fixed or permanent exclusion, high levels of school absence, or dropping out of school in Year 11.
Around 100,000 of these teenagers were receiving high-cost statutory support such as being in care, being on a child protection plan, having an education care and health plan or being enrolled at a Pupil Referral Unit.
The Commissioner said she is particularly concerned about these children who may not be getting the right level of help and may become removed from the systems intended to support them.
‘Even before the lockdown, one in 25 teenagers in England were falling through gaps in the school or social services systems,’ said Ms Longfield.
‘This puts them at increased risk of unemployment or of exploitation by gangs and organised criminals. This summer I am particularly worried that teenagers who have finished year 11, who have seen their apprenticeship collapse, or have simply lost their way through lockdown will simply fall off the radar. Teenagers in colleges have so far been left out of catch-up funding.’
The chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, Cllr Judith Blake said councils share the Commissioner’s concerns about the impact of the coronavirus crisis on vulnerable teenagers.
‘Social workers and colleagues across children’s services and education have done an incredible job trying to keep children and young people safe and well during this hugely challenging period,’ said Ms Blake.
‘However, children’s social care referrals have fallen by more than half in some areas, from an average of almost 1,800 per day, which raises concerns that not all young people are getting the support they need.’
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