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Government has ‘no purpose, goal or assessment’ for vulnerable teens

On Thursday 26th January 2023 the House of Lords debated the final report released by The Commission on Young Lives. The debate praised the report for raising important issues and the work being done in the social care sector but criticised government’s lack of coordination in funding and policy.

27/01/23

Government has ‘no purpose, goal or assessment’ for vulnerable teens

A debate in the House of Lords has highlighted failures in the systems designed to protect children.

Debating the “Hidden in Plain Sight” report by the Commission on Young Lives yesterday (Thursday 26th January), Baroness Armstrong congratulated the Commission for releasing an “important piece of work that challenges us all”.

Baroness Armstrong, said the report, published in November last year, highlighted failings of the systems designed to protect children, quoting examples of young people taken into care for their own protection but being moved away from their families and support networks, therefore making them increasingly vulnerable to further exploitation.

Baroness Armstrong reinforced the report’s finding that failings in identifying who needed support, sharing information and responding to this is almost always uncoordinated within, and between, agencies.

Debate in the Lords criticised the government for its role in failings to support vulnerable children, which Baroness Armstrong summarised as “using sticking plasters…not early intervention” arguing that the government has “not risen to these challenges with the scale and urgency required.”

Baroness Armstrong summarised her motion in suggesting that the government has “still not developed a full understanding of the challenges involved in supporting young adults” and has “no strategic purpose, goal or assessment” in responding to this.

Criticisms were reiterated by Baroness Valentine who called for a stop to short term funding and resourcing which often represents “parachuting people in who often disrupt the local support networks and sometime do more harm than good”.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale put the blame of this at the foot of the everchanging national leadership suggesting that “all policy is at the whim and change of changing ministers and leaders”. Lord McConnell went further, saying that “kids with chaotic lives face support by chaotic services”.

Baroness Armstrong, who initially tabled this motion for debate ended her contribution by urging the government to not only look carefully at this report, but mainly to implement it.

The Commission on Young Lives, an independent group formed in September 2021, was created with the purpose of coordinating a response to counter the efforts of those who had, or intended to, exploit and groom children and young people. Chaired by former Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield CBE, the underlying objective of the Commission was to “prevent crisis in vulnerable young people and to support them to succeed in life”.

In carrying out the research necessary to produce their recommendations, the Commission visited schools, colleges, youth centres and a number of local authorities. Input was taken from regular discussions with a range of social workers, charities and community groups and directors of children’s services.

Drawing on this expertise, the Commission on Young Lives published a final report named “Hidden in Plain Sight” in November 2022 setting out an “ambitious but achievable” new policy framework including out a number of recommendations.

The Commission on Young Lives summarised their report as finding that thousands of children in the U.K “were growing up living very vulnerable lives” and that:

“Every year, hundreds of the most vulnerable fall off the radar of the education and social services system, putting them at increased risk of criminal or sexual exploitation … Their chances of entering adulthood with positive opportunities and choices are low”.

Highlighting the differences between those aiming to exploit children and those seeking to prevent it, the Commission states that it found those seeking to exploit young people to be “nimble” and on the “cutting edge of technology” in “stark contrast” to the state who took an approach that represented a “box-ticking system” in which children interacted with “ten or more different professionals, none of them taking a lead or building a trusted relationship with the child”.

Responsibility for this underperforming safeguarding process for children is, in part, blamed on the “legacy of an underfunded and overstretched service … so toxic it could only increase the pressure on many vulnerable families and children”. In direct terms, the Commission stated that many of these issues were rooted in the measures taken as part of austerity and that significant drops in funding since 2010 had resulted in systems and services that were “over-stretched, not trusted … simply unable to meet the demands of the many vulnerable children and unable to stop them falling through the gaps.”

The Hidden in Plain Sight final report made several recommendations and proposals to reform the social care system as well as direct appeals Government. Notable within the recommendations was the proposal for the ‘sure start plus programme’ which, run in hubs, would provide a universal programme to bring together “bespoke services” and run from a new ‘joint children, schools and families department’.

As well as calling for more effective leadership and funding in government, the report stated that there would always be a need for social care. With this in mind the report recommended that, by 2027, the social care sector should be uplifted by provision of: 300 new local children’s homes, 2,000 specialist youth foster carers and support for an additional 3,000 families to provide kinship care for teenagers to stay with their families.

More information of the Commission on Young Lives, the Hidden in Plain Sight Report and the debate in the House of lords can be found below:

View the full House of Lords debate: https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/17c4284c-b417-4e29-949e-d7c9c20dec28?in=15:39:35

Commission on Young Lives: https://thecommissiononyounglives.co.uk/#:~:text=The%20Commission's%20final%20report%2C%20'Hidden,thrive%20and%20succeed%20in%20life.

Hidden in Plain Sight: https://lordslibrary.parliament.uk/commission-on-young-lives-national-plan-for-vulnerable-young-people/#heading-1

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