Children’s Commissioner Vulnerability Report

A report into statistics of vulnerable children was launched by the Children's Commissioner for England yesterday

Yesterday we attended the launch of a new report on vulnerable children developed by the Children’s Commissioner for England.

The event heard from Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield on the background and requirement for the research into vulnerability and also Leon Feinstein, Director of Evidence who compiled the report. Download the report here.

Details about the Children’s Commissioner for England’s plans for the year ahead 2017-18 were initially highlighted at the launch and included the following four priorities 1) ‘Invisible’ children 2) Digital children 3) Children behind closed doors and 4) Children in care. An audience member highlighted that the language ‘invisible children’ may need to be looked at as it implies that they are hidden from all professionals, which they often aren’t. It should be up to us to recognise the signs and go to them, rather than waiting for them to seek help or reach a breaking point where heightened risk factors mean necessary professional intervention. Intervention at a lower level of vulnerability would surely help to protect young people from the start, rather than being reactive and simply managing vulnerability at crisis point.

This report was described as being a basis for developing a framework for how we as professionals refer to vulnerability and then work to reduce numbers of vulnerable children going forward. The report will now go out to consultation with other professionals and organisations to have input on definitions and solutions going forward.

Anne Longfield explained that from the research, which should be seen as preliminary at this stage, there was still evidence of children being passed around within children’s services, with too many different points of contact and a lack of understanding of what we mean, in different professional contexts, when we use the term vulnerability in relation to a child or young person.

It was also identified during the research that vulnerability was often only being looked at through the lens of immediate responsibility eg when a child was being seen by a specific service, whether that is in A&E, the criminal justice system etc. Anne mentioned that the agenda for vulnerability has often been driven by what is the highest profile issue gaining media interest at any given time, which we really need to change. We agree that without looking at vulnerability holistically and how children are responded to and referred between different professional services, many children are undoubtedly still falling through the cracks.

The report identifies 32 groups of vulnerable children in England as you can see on the poster, though it was explained by the panel yesterday that through ongoing debate, there will likely be further groups identified and that professionals are encouraged to join in the consultation process to determine appropriate definitions and thresholds for vulnerability following the report.

The figures released in the report are likely to be those at higher levels of need and risk – meaning that a good deal more children with lower level vulnerabilities are still not known to the system and therefore, not measured in this report.

An important issue raised by the audience which we would agree with is the category titled ‘children and young people whose actions put their futures at risk’. It was claimed that this implies that all young people in this category have made decisions in isolation of other circumstances such as adverse family issues, lack of professional support or problems with access to education and it therefore could apportion blame to them for their own vulnerable circumstances. We feel that it is rarely appropriate to consider a child solely responsible for actions which make them vulnerable and it is our responsibility as professionals to help prevent the circumstances which make them vulnerable and support them to overcome them. The consultation that begins now will look at the language we attribute within the context of vulnerability.

We think it is important that children who have suffered abuse should be recognised separately within the categories of vulnerability and also those at significant risk of being abused if this has not already been identified. There is a call from the Children’s Commissioner’s office already for more information to be provided on numbers of children who have experienced trauma and abuse but not reported to social care services so we hope that this will be acknowledged and explored in more detail during the consultation process.

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