1 in 25 teenagers in England falling through gaps in education and social care

Report finds that “lack of coordination” by public services means that over 120,000 young people are currently either out of education or care that puts them at risk of exploitation by criminal gangs.

08/02/21

1 in 25 teenagers in England falling through gaps in education and social care

Around 1 in 25 teenagers in England are at risk of exploitation by criminal gangs because they have been overlooked by the education and care systems, a new report from the Children’s Commissioner has found.

The research estimates that over 27,000 children and young people are currently “high risk of gang exploitation” because they are not known to either education or care services.

In addition, the report finds that over 120,000 are more broadly at risk of “falling through gaps” in protection systems, such as permanent exclusions from school and forcibly leaving the care system, and as such are “not receiving the additional support they need from the state.”

The findings come alongside a recent report that found that referrals to children’s services in November 2020 fell by as much as 12%, despite warnings from the police regarding the increased risks to vulnerable children no longer in school due to the current coronavirus restrictions.

The vast majority of local authorities do not have “a sufficient grip” on controlling youth violence in their areas, nor do they have a cogent strategy to reduce risk factors in vulnerable cohorts, especially as many were found to not be tracking school exclusions, says the report.

The research found that local authorities that report quantifying levels of youth violence by recording a wider range of risk factors for involvement, directly fund youth violence specific programmes, and have a working drugs policy for children and young people, tend to have more success in controlling the issue.

However, only one in four local authorities were found to be dealing with youth violence in this way, with most LAs found to be missing opportunities to identify some of the most at-risk children and ensure appropriate services are in place to prevent harm.

As such, the report warns that the numbers of children and young people at risk of criminal manipulation are likely to increase in the aftermath of the pandemic, unless a more coordinated approach from public services is introduced.

Strong national leadership, improved data collection, a national drugs strategy, as well as a cross-government framework to help coordinate the safeguarding work undertaken by police forces, public health, the NHS, and children’s services, are among the recommendations put forward by the Commissioner.

In addition, reforms to the school exclusion system, increased funding and support for schools, introduction of NHS school councillors, increased quantification of young violence factors and a coordinated response between Health and Wellbeing boards and safeguarding bodies would also help address the issue, the report finds.

The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, outlined the opportunity to act upon the findings now to ensure that more children are protected from criminal exploitation as the pandemic continues, and once it has ended.

“The common thread throughout all these cases is the series of missed opportunities, from a broad range of agencies, to intervene and protect these vulnerable children,” said Longfield.

“Predators who seek to exploit children for financial gain will use sophisticated methods to target, groom and coerce children. They are ruthless in their efforts to keep children in their thrall, subjecting them to unspeakable abuse, threats and intimidation. If intervention comes when children are already entangled in these dangerous enterprises, it is difficult to reach them.

“To keep children safe, the response to youth violence must be a national priority across policing, public health and children’s services. We need equally strong national leadership in each of these three fields, backed up by local partnership working. This is the only way to fully implement a genuine public health approach across the country.

“Tragically, until there is this joined up public health response to gangs that identifies and helps all those children at risk as early as possible, teenagers will keep dying on our streets,” she concluded.

Cllr Nesil Caliskan, Chair of the Local Government Association's Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said that it was “disappointing” that the report focused solely on the current role of public health services.

“A public health approach to serious youth violence is vital but does not mean one led by council public health teams alone,” said Caliskan.

“We agree that it is important to intervene early to tackle the root causes of serious violence and address the risk factors which we know can lead to a young person becoming involved in violent crime.

“However, this requires multi-agency working across a range of partners, including health, education, local government, the police and voluntary sector, so singling out one area of this co-ordinated effort is not representative of how local authorities are working.

“If we are to reduce youth violence and make a real impact on the lives of those involved or at risk, councils and their partners need to be able to deliver the services young people need. We have called for the reinstatement of the £1.7 billion that has been removed from the Early Intervention Grant to councils since 2010.”

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