In July 2017 we published our childhood vulnerability framework, the first attempt to measure the number of vulnerable children in England by mapping the full range of difficulties a child might be living with, from physical or mental illness, to going hungry; being homeless or excluded from school; being at risk of neglect; or living with parents with health problems. This year we will update the figures, show trends, and for the first time include breakdowns by age and location. Where possible we aim to produce estimates by local authority and/or Parliamentary constituency, updated annually.
The second wave of the vulnerability study will also seek to identify the common vulnerabilities, risks and indicators which criss cross children’s lives. We will produce a report into children living in households surrounded by risk – where adults have drug or alcohol problems and mental health conditions and where domestic violence is present. These children often go under the radar, un-noticed by adult services. We will be working to estimate how many of these children there are, of what ages, and show what life is like for them through one of our ‘Voices of Children’ reports. We will focus on the lives of children who are poor and living with additional vulnerabilities such as disability, parental neglect, or caring responsibilities.
We hear from children all the time who tell us they are having difficulties accessing mental health services, with referrals only made when a child is at crisis point. They also talk about the lack of information available for them online; a sign of a service not designed around user needs. Our analysis last year showed that local areas spend an average of 6% of their mental health budget on children, despite children making up around 20% of the population. This year we will continue our work to drive transparency in terms of NHS spending and provision for children and advocate for children’s mental health to be a priority locally and nationally. We will also continue to monitor what local areas provide.
Children with speech and language difficulties, in particular those living with autism, were also a big concern for the children we have spoken to. They have told us of long waiting times for those with speech and language difficulties, stigma, and the absence of early help. They also spoke of the impact that speech and language problems can have on education and on emotional wellbeing, but they also praised the services they had received. Despite anecdotal evidence of extremely long waits, there is no national data on the amount spent on speech and language therapy for children, or on how long children wait to be helped. We will use our data-gathering power this year to survey local areas and find out who spends what, where services are underfunded, and how long children are having to wait.
We will also look closely at the experiences of the hundreds of thousands of children living in poor quality or insecure housing. This will run alongside a major new programme of work to identify and quantify groups of children living in insecure or poor quality housing.
A briefing we produced for MPs last year exposed the lack of transparency and clarity over children who fall through the cracks in the education system. There are tens of thousands of children we cannot be certain are being educated at all, along with anecdotal evidence that more and more kids are being excluded from a ‘one size fits all’ mainstream education system. ‘Off-rolling’ – the movement of a child off a school’s roll without officially excluding them – will be the subject of further scrutiny by the Children’s Commissioner this year. The Children’s Commissioner will also accompany Ofsted this year on a series of inspections of unregistered and suspected illegal schools.