Our original report hig hlighted that 16 and 17 year olds who experience risk and vulnerabilities can fall between the cracks of childhood and adulthood. This is often due to the lack of support available to children of this age, combined with a mistaken belie that theyare more resilient and able to resolve issues on their own.
Sixteen and 17 can be both exciting and anxious ages. On the cusp of adulthood, young people are making choices about what they want to do with their lives. All children need some kind of support to help and advise them with the choices they face. But for children who do not have anyone to turn to and have serious difficulties, decisions about where tolive, how to cope with problems and manage relationships, this age can be more anxious than exciting.
Our new analysis of the Understanding Society data shows that 1 in 5 of 16 and 17 year olds experience five or more factors in their lives that may contribute to vulnerability. This would equate to 240,000 16 and 17 year olds in England. The true scale of how many children require help as they move into adulthood is not known. However, our research has found that around 1 in 16 young people aged 16 and 17 are experiencing complex issues in their lives which require them to be referred to local authorities for help.
In this new report, alongside exploring the level of vulnerability in the 16 and 17 year old population, we specifically focus on 16 and 17 year olds referred to children’s services and assessed as being a child in need or who become subject to child protection plan. We are concerned that due to the limited support this group receives, the difficulties they experience in their lives, limited support they receive as children in need, and the lack of statutory support once they turn 18, their struggles continues as they move into adult life.
Issues that young people referred to children’s services as 16 and 17 ye ar olds experience include domestic violence, mental ill health, drug or alcohol abuse and a risk ofchild sexual exploitation (CSE) and often a combination of these issues.
In just over 50% of cases of 16 and 17 year olds referred to children’s services for support, these issues are deemed serious enough by local authorities and young people are assessed as ‘children in need’, recognising that without support from services the child’s health and development may be compromised.
Our research also confirmed what we often see in our direct work: that for many of these children it is not their first encounter with local services. One in three 16 and 17 year olds referred to children’s services last year had been referred within the previous two years, suggesting that the problems in their lives persist at least from when they were 14 and 15.
Unfortunately, for many of these children the issues they struggle with are not going to improve or get resolved once they reach adulthood. Currently, there is very little research and understanding of the needs or outcomes experienced by ‘children in need’ as they become adults. The very limited data shared with us by local authorities for this research suggests thatthese young people are more likely to have poor educational attainments at the age of 17, more likely to be NEET (not in education, employment or training), claim benefits and experience homelessness than their peers who have not been known to children’s services.
Our analysis of the Understanding Society data suggests that for young people experiencing a high number of risks and vulnerabilities as 16 and 17 year olds, these risks and vulnerabilities are likely to remain, or in some cases intensify, as young people become young adults. While any child can experience a number of risks and vulnerabilities during their transition to adulthood, young people with the highest number of risk factors and vulnerabilities are less likely to report that they have resolved them as they reach adulthood.