Vulnerable children who do not meet the threshold for child protection intervention by local authorities is a key area of focus for the Children’s Commissioner for England, she told delegates at the National Children and Adults Services Conference in Manchester.
In her speech, Anne Longfield said there were an estimated 390,000 children in need in England at any one time and more than 750,000 in any year.
“These are children who are considered in need of services in order to achieve a reasonable level of health and development,” she said before adding “The majority of these children suffer from abuse, neglect or family dysfunction and have equally poor outcomes as a result.”
The Commissioner recently proposed a network of Family Hubs to reach out and support much earlier a range of vulnerable families who may be struggling. These would offer an enhanced level of statutory and voluntary services under one roof from day one of a child’s life – in a far more coordinated way than is currently available in some areas.
Setting out her priorities till 2020, the Commissioner described how her work would continue to be ‘shaped around the concerns that I hear from children and young people,’ from intervention in individual cases when things go wrong for children living away from home to an escalation to investigation in systemic issues such as access to mental health, support for young carers and tackling childhood sexual abuse when problems are seen to be widespread.
Improving understanding about children in need, of how levels of support for this disadvantaged group affected their lives in the long and short-term, would be a priority for the Commissioner. This group is often vulnerable to gangs, drugs, petty crime and sexual exploitation and ‘often fall between the cracks.’
She said: “Without intervention, these children will experience poor outcomes across a range of indicators, including progress in education and employment,” adding “Given their outcomes, it is very doubtable children in need are receiving adequate services to help them get on in life. They would appear to fall between policy programmes.”
Work on creation of a ‘Gold Star Dataset’ is underway. This will draw on analysis of linked data, other official statistics and new data collection to provide a clear picture of the experiences, welfare and outcomes of looked after and other vulnerable children in England. In the first instance this will focus on a Stability Index of children in care which will be launched in February.
Practitioners, policy makers and local authorities will be able to use this data to help drive improvements and meet the needs and expectations of looked after and vulnerable children, including those currently off the radar of authorities.