Millions of vulnerable children being let down by system

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Over two million children in England are growing up in families where there are serious risks, according to a new report from the Children’s Commissioner.


The Children's Commissioner report estimates that one in six children in England are living 'vulnerable lives'

The report, which brings together a range of information held by several Government departments, agencies and others, estimates 2.1 million children in England, one in six, are living ‘vulnerable lives’ due to complex family circumstances.

It also warns that 1.6 million of those vulnerable children are effectively ‘invisible’ as they are receiving no known support or help from the system

According to ‘The Children’s Commissioner 2018 Report into Childhood Vulnerability’, the 2.1 million children living ‘vulnerable lives’ face the following complex needs:

  • 890,000 have parents suffering serious mental health problems
  • 825,0000 live in homes with domestic abuse
  • 470,000 whose parents use substances problematically
  • 100,000 are living in a family with a ‘toxic trio’ (mental health problems, domestic violence and alcohol and/or substance abuse)
  • 470,000 are living in material deprivation
  • 170,000 care for their parents or siblings 

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said, ‘Over a million of the most vulnerable children in England cannot meet their own ambitions because they are being let down by a system that doesn’t recognise or support them - a system that too often leaves them and their families to fend for themselves until crisis point is reached.

‘Not every vulnerable child needs state intervention, but this research gives us – in stark detail – the scale of need and the challenges ahead. Meeting them will not be easy or cost-free. It will require additional resources, effectively targeted, so that we move from a system that marginalises vulnerable children to one which helps them.

‘Supporting vulnerable children should be the biggest social justice challenge of our time. Every day we see the huge pressures on the family courts, schools and the care systems of failing to take long-term action. The cost to the state is ultimately greater than it should be, and the cost to those vulnerable children missing out on support can last a lifetime.

‘We get the society we choose - and at the moment we are choosing to gamble with the futures of hundreds of thousands of children.’

Sector comments

Councillor Roy Perry, vice chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said, 'This is just the latest in a series of stark warnings about the huge number of children and families in need of help and support, and highlights the immense challenge facing councils and their partners as they try to address growing levels of need with rapidly diminishing resources.

'We want the Government to heed these increasingly urgent warnings and accept the critical need for properly funded children's services, which face a funding gap of £3 billion by 2025 just to keep services running at current levels.

'We have long warned of the rising demand councils face, with an average of more than 270 children taken into care or placed on a child protection plan every single day to keep them safe from harm.

'This is becoming unsustainable, with many areas struggling to cope. This report provides further evidence that children's services are being pushed to the brink, and desperately need new resources if they are to provide the essential support that our children and young people rely on and deserve.'

Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said, 'It’s our most vulnerable children who are paying the price for the punishing central Government cuts to council budgets, and being left without the early help they desperately need.

'Every day at Action for Children we see families suffering at the hands of domestic abuse, neglect or alcoholism – scars that can stay with children for the rest of their lives. But cash-strapped councils, in an impossible financial position, are being asked to deliver critical children’s services with one hand tied behind their backs. Our own research shows they are being forced to focus on children in crisis and simply can’t afford the early help services families need to prevent problems from spiralling. 

'The system is failing children all over the country and unless the government takes urgent action in next year’s spending review to address this funding crisis, things will only get worse.'

A Government spokesperson said, 'Every child deserves the best start in life, so it is vital vulnerable children who face barriers to success, such as those affected by mental health, alcoholism and domestic abuse receive the care and support they need, when they need it. 

'We are working to tackle these issues through our landmark Domestic Abuse Bill to better protect and support victims, new measures to help children with alcoholic parents and reviewing the outcomes for children in need. 

'We are also investing up to £270 million in children’s social care programmes to improve the lives of vulnerable children, pledged £8 million for projects to support children who are exposed to domestic abuse and £500,000 to expand helplines for children of alcoholics.”


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