Vulnerable children

Shining a light on the extent and impact of child vulnerability in England.

‘Invisible’ children

In July 2017 we published our first annual childhood vulnerability framework. It was 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’s 2018 vulnerability report tells us about the numbers of children who are growing up in England with vulnerability and risks that could affect their lives, wellbeing and life chances.

We find that there are over 2 million children in England living in families with substantial complex needs, and that of these 1.6 million children have no established, recognised form of additional support. In addition there are multiple other forms of vulnerability, risk and need. We show the latest data on 70 aggregate groups that we will use to monitor trends, consider aggregate levels of need and frame our work to hear the views of children and young people.

The overview report provides a summary of the underlying data and analysis, which is set out in more detail in four technical reports. A set of slides summarises conversations with young people about the framework. You can also see below some of the reports from last year with more discussion of some of the issues in measuring and defining vulnerability.

The Children’s Commissioner’s annual study of childhood vulnerability in England 2018.

The Children’s Commissioner’s report into vulnerable babies.

What we spend on children

We know from our vulnerability work that the number of children needing the state to intervene in their lives is rising, driving up the costs of statutory children’s social care services. Through the years of ‘austerity’, councils have worked hard to protect this spending – as they should. In June, I published work I commissioned the Institute of Fiscal Studies to carry out looking at what governments have spent on children from 2000 to 2020. As the Government begins its work on next year’s Spending Review, now is the time to debate the shape of public spending on children. What we spend, on who, and when is even more challenging in an era of austerity, and children do not have votes and voices to influence these debates.

Voices of children reports

Talking with children is at the heart of our work and we have published a range of studies shining a light on the experiences of children.

Children’s mental health

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. We are continuing  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. Our latest briefing on children’s mental health is available here.

Falling through the gaps

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.