Half a million vulnerable children need state intervention

Children’s commissioner warns of extent of vulnerability among children in England

Published on 11th July 2017

More than half a million children in England are so vulnerable that the state has to step in, the children’s commissioner has warned.

Analysis by the children’s commissioner Anne Longfield has revealed for the first time the scale of vulnerability among children in England.

The report warns that 670,000 children in England are growing up in ‘high risk’ family situations. Thousands of children are living with adults receiving treatment for substance abuse, 800,000 children are suffering from mental health problems and there are over a thousand new child victims of slavery each year.

Yet the figures are just the tip of the iceberg with many more children going under the radar and not being seen, the report warns. Many of the figures published in the report are likely to underestimate the actual number of children living vulnerable lives: many children are ‘invisible’ because they are not reported to services, or because of worrying gaps in available data.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “It is shocking that half a million children – a number equivalent to the entire population of Manchester – need direct intervention or care from the state because they are living vulnerable lives. On top of that there are many hundreds of thousands of other children growing up in potentially high-risk situations.

“Yet even more shocking is that this is only the tip of the iceberg. The actual numbers are likely to be much higher. The truth is nobody knows the exact number of vulnerable children. We can trace in minute detail the academic progress of a child from 4 to 18 and beyond, but when it comes to describing and assessing the scale of negative factors in a child’s life which will hamper their progress, we are floundering.

“What we do know is that even these numbers are unacceptably high. Our ambition as a nation should be for all our children to live happy and healthy lives. This report shows that millions are not doing so – and that has to change,” she added.

The report found:

  • Almost 700,000 children are living in families that have vulnerabilities, including over 15,000 children living with an adult receiving alcohol treatment and nearly 12,000 living with an adult in drug treatment.
  • 160,000 children have been temporarily or permanently excluded from school in England.
  • 800,000 children aged 5 to 17 suffer mental health disorders.
  • 200,000 children are judged by their local authority to have experienced trauma or abuse.
  • An estimated 46,000 children are thought to be part of a gang.
  • 119,000 children are homeless or living in insecure or unstable housing.
  • 170,000 children are estimated to do unpaid caring for family members.
  • 1,200 children are newly identified victims of modern slavery per year.

The aim of the report is to shine a light on the nature and scale of children’s vulnerability in England and to look at how the thousands of ‘invisible’ children can be better identified. The report provides a set of 32 groups of children that have come to be associated with forms of vulnerability or risk.

The report is the first stage in a long-term programme of work which the Children’s Commissioner will carry out on vulnerability. It starts with tackling the confusion about what counts as vulnerability and a consultation will be carried out on the definitions of ‘vulnerable’ in order for a framework to be developed and used widely.

Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said: “The Children’s Commissioner’s report makes grim reading and is a crushing indictment of modern-day Britain. Despite being the fifth richest economy in the world, the fact that so many children are living in precarious and unsafe circumstances points to a Government that has lost its grip on its key role – to keep all citizens – but especially the most vulnerable – safe and secure.

“The last decade has witnessed deregulation and cost cutting on a grand scale. Services previously provided by local authorities have been axed or severely hampered by a lack of funding. Social services are running on a shoestring, child mental health services are hanging on by a thread and youth services that previously provided support directly to young people themselves, no longer exist or are greatly reduced. Teachers are having to pick up the pieces as children present at school with a multiplicity of complex problems and needs that schools cannot always address in the absence of specialist support services.

“The government must take note and commence concrete and serious action to address the many failings of government policy towards children, young people and their families that this report so vividly highlights,” he concluded.

Children’s commissioner report on vulnerability


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