“Out of Harm’s Way: A new care system to protect vulnerable teenagers at risk of exploitation and crime” is the first in a year-long series of reports into teenagers at risk. The Commission launched in September 2021 and is chaired by former Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, and hosted by Oasis Charitable Trust.
The report warns that the current care system is unfit for purpose. Instead of protecting vulnerable teenagers, the system is handing over some children to criminals and abusers by moving them away from their families and communities and continuing to place them in accommodation that puts them at risk of harm – sometimes alongside adults and those involved with drugs and crime.
The recent tragic murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson have revealed a children’s social care system stretched to its limits. In March 2021, there were 80,850 children in care in England, a 1% rise on the year before and the highest on record. Social services’ caseloads are increasing, and the costs of care are increasing, as 10-15-year-olds become the fastest growing group of children entering care and 16-and-17-year-olds with acute needs now make up 23% of children in care.
With the average costs of care for many of these children at £200,000 per year, the cost of crisis care is escalating, leaving funds available for early intervention and prevention reduced year on year.n.
The issue of the disproportionate numbers of BAME children, and particularly Black young people, not just in the justice system but in every part of the social care landscape was raised throughout evidence sessions, suggesting that there is systemic racial bias in the system.
“A children’s social care system that is supposed to protect vulnerable teenagers is frequently putting them in even greater danger. Often, we may as well be handing over children directly to ruthless gangs and criminals. It is unfit for purpose.”
Anne Longfield, chair of the Commission on Young Lives
‘Out of Harm’s Way’ makes a series of recommendations to government, including:
- Calling on the Government to establish a ‘Vulnerable Teenagers At Risk’ ministerial taskforce, along the lines of the defunct Serious Violence Taskforce established by the previous Prime Minister.
- The Department for Education to establish a ‘teenagers out of harm’ programme that guarantees teenagers are not placed in inappropriate care placements, and a ban on the use of unregulated accommodation for all under18s in care.
- New duties and protections for co-ordinated support for teenagers at risk and their families from local authorities, schools, GPs and the police.
- The Department for Education to establish a new ‘Teenager in Care’ package of appropriate and high-quality modes of care for teenagers, accelerating its programme to increase the capacity of residential care for teenagers and financing new local community children’s homes.
- A national recruitment programme of specialist teen foster carers, encouraging youth workers and others with specialist knowledge and skills in working with young people to become foster carers, with a bespoke package of support.
- Extension of funding for Violence Reduction Units and Young Adder as part of a Safe Teenagers programme.
- Funding from the Supporting Families and Family Hubs programmes to prioritise support for vulnerable children with a particular emphasis on supporting families with teenagers at risk.
- The launch of a new Teenager at Risk helpline aimed at both vulnerable children and parents and families.