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Teenagers get raw deal from child protection

Teenagers are often poorly served by the child protection system because they are mistakenly seen as more resilient than other children or better dealt with by another service.

A major research study, in which 160 professionals participated, found that young people aged 11 – 17 struggled to strike up trusting relationships with professionals, partly because their social workers were overworked and were frequently changed.

While young people in this age group were often perceived by professionals as better able to deal with maltreatment than younger children, there is no evidence to support this view, say the researchers from the Children’s Society, NSPCC and the University of York’s Social Policy Research Unit.

According to the study, ‘Safeguarding Young People’, there appears to be “a common professional view that the effects of maltreatment are less severe for older young people than for younger children. This view is not, however, well supported by the limited evidence that exists on the topic”.

Children’s Society chief executive Bob Reitemeier added: “Many older children who we work with are just as vulnerable as younger children, if not more so. It’s important that we review the way we support these young people and which approach works best for them once they have disclosed maltreatment.”

The study found a “fairly common” view among children’s social care services staff that the child protection process was not the best way of responding to young people. Many thought that they were better channelled along the “child in need” route or a multi-agency approach such as the common assessment framework.

Policymakers should consider reviewing the current alternatives to child protection to determine what works best for young people and attempt to bring more consistency to service provision, the report says. It adds that there “needs to be more service provision for young people, particularly in the 14-17 age group that can engage them and meet their needs.”

The research suggests that one of the main barriers preventing external professionals from referring young people to children’s social services is the “perception that thresholds and resource constraints would mean they were unable to respond”.

Professor Mike Stein, from the University of York, said society was very quick to condemn the behaviour of teenagers. “The research shows that we are far less responsive in understanding and meeting the needs of those young people who are maltreated.”

‘Safeguarding Young People: Responding to young people aged 11 to 17 who are maltreated’ is available from www.childrenssociety.org.uk/resources/documents/research