Vulnerable teenagers could be left “invisible” to authorities amid the coronavirus outbreak – making them easy prey for criminal gangs, the Children’s Commissioner for England warned today.
Anne Longfield said that by the time kids are due to return to school in September, they will have been closed to most teenagers for half a year.
She feared youngsters who were “already falling through gaps in education and social care provision … will remain ‘invisible’ even after the lockdown restrictions ease” – potentially creating a “lost generation”.
Her office today published analysis of kids who persistently truant, are expelled from schools, drop out at Year 11 or go missing from care.
She said: “Even before the lockdown, one in 25 teenagers in England were falling through gaps in the school or social services systems.
“This puts them at increased risk of unemployment or of exploitation by gangs and organised criminals.
“This summer I am particularly worried that teenagers who have finished Year 11, who have seen their apprenticeship collapse, or have simply lost their way through lockdown will simply fall off the radar.
“Teenagers in colleges have so far been left out of catch-up funding.
“Many of these children, and I fear many thousands of other vulnerable teenagers, have had very little structure to their lives over the last six months.
“School was often a stretch for them, and I am concerned we are never going to get some of them back into education.
“If we do not act now, this could result in a lost generation of teens – dropping out of school, going under the radar, getting into trouble, and at risk of being groomed by gangs and criminals.”
The Children’s Commissioner’s analysis, which looks at data of teenagers aged 13 to 17 in England who were on the radar of schools and children’s social care, concludes that 123,000 teenagers fell through gaps in mainstream provision and became invisible to services in 2017-18.
It suggests that teenagers in Liverpool, Medway and Blackpool were more likely to be affected than those in West Berkshire and Rutland, and in Barnet and Kingston upon Thames, London.
The report calls on councils to work with schools, police and youth workers to target teenagers “at risk of becoming ‘invisible’ to services, or who have gone missing under lockdown”.
It adds: “These teens are easy prey to criminal gangs and abuse, and are at very high risk of becoming not in education, employment, or training.
“Ensuring that they are able to recover from the crisis and have a way of getting back into education, training or work is vital.”
The Commissioner wants summer schemes, including sports clubs, play schemes, holiday clubs and youth clubs, to be run for these vulnerable teenagers.
Judith Blake, of the Local Government Association, said: “Councils share the Commissioner’s concerns about the impact of the coronavirus crisis on vulnerable teenagers.
“Social workers and colleagues across children’s services and education have done an incredible job trying to keep children and young people safe and well during this hugely challenging period.
“However, children’s social care referrals have fallen by more than half in some areas, from an average of almost 1,800 per day, which raises concerns that not all young people are getting the support they need.
“Councils are working with their partners and communities to try to identify children who may be at risk. As this report reinforces, it is vital that councils have the funding they need to support children, young people and families as part of the national recovery.
“The impact of the pandemic on some children will be far-reaching, and it will be essential that the right services are there to support them.”