4th July 2018

Over two million children in England are growing up in families where there are serious risks, major study from Children’s Commissioner reveals

  • Children’s Commissioner’s report into childhood vulnerability estimates 2.1 million children in England – one in six – are living vulnerable lives due to complex family circumstances. 
  • 1.6 million ‘invisible’ children are living in vulnerable situations but receiving no known support or help from the system.
  • Report estimates 825,000 children are living in a family with domestic violence and that over 100,000 children are living in a family with the so-called ‘toxic trio’ of domestic violence, mental health and alcohol or substance abuse.

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, is today publishing a new report that brings together a range of information held by various government departments, agencies and others to reveal the scale of child vulnerability in England.

The report, “The Children’s Commissioner’s 2018 Report into Childhood Vulnerability”, estimates that 2.1 million of England’s 11.8 million children – one in six – are living in families with risks so serious that they need some level of help. The study also warns that for 1.6 million of those vulnerable children, the support is effectively ‘invisible’ – we don’t know if they are actually getting any coordinated help, despite the difficulties they are growing up with. Some of the risks these children face include parents with mental health problems or parents who are alcoholics or have substance abuse problems.

The 2.1 million children growing up in families with these complex needs includes:

  • 890,000 children with parents suffering serious mental health problems
  • 825,000 children living in homes with domestic violence
  • 470,000 children whose parents use substances problematically
  • 100,000 children who are living in a family with a “toxic trio” (mental health problems, domestic violence and alcohol and/or substance abuse)
  • 470,000 children living in material deprivation
  • 170,000 children who care for their parents or siblings

This year’s second annual Children’s Commissioner’s report on childhood vulnerability widens the groups of children associated with forms of vulnerability or risk from 32 to 37 (with 70 sub-groups) after making progress in identifying new groups of vulnerable children. The purpose of the study is to gather all available data on childhood vulnerability into one place, which enables us to cross-reference one dataset against another. It is designed to provide a clearer picture of the numbers of vulnerable children in England, to demonstrate why that can be difficult and to analyse in more detail the groups of children who are most vulnerable. Changes in figures from last year’s report may reflect better estimates rather than an annual increase or decrease in vulnerability.

The report finds that of the 2.1 million children in families with complex needs:

  • 310,000 children are classified as ‘children in need’
  • 410,000 are in families that are being, or have previously been, supported by the Troubled Families programme
  • 30,000 are the registered with their council as a young carer

But there are considerable overlaps between these groups – for example, many of the children in so-called Troubled Families are also children in need themselves. Once these overlaps are taken into account, the total number of number of children who are actually known to receive some kind of support comes to only 570,000. That leaves behind another 1.6 million children for whom it is unknown if they are actually getting any sort of formal or structured support – despite their potentially serious family circumstances.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, responding to today’s report, said:

“Over a million of the most vulnerable children in England cannot meet their own ambitions because they are being let down by a system that doesn’t recognise or support them – a system that too often leaves them and their families to fend for themselves until crisis point is reached.

“Not every vulnerable child needs state intervention, but this research gives us – in stark detail – the scale of need and the challenges ahead. Meeting them will not be easy or cost-free. It will require additional resources, effectively targeted, so that we move from a system that marginalises vulnerable children to one which helps them.

“Supporting vulnerable children should be the biggest social justice challenge of our time. Every day we see the huge pressures on the family courts, schools and the care systems of failing to take long-term action. The cost to the state is ultimately greater than it should be, and the cost to those vulnerable children missing out on support can last a lifetime.

“We get the society we choose – and at the moment we are choosing to gamble with the futures of hundreds of thousands of children.”