From April to July, I was given the opportunity to volunteer at The Children’s Society within the Policy Team at their London headquarters. Coming from a legal background specialising in Child Protection and having worked with safeguarding in a large secondary school, I had become very familiar with the work undertaken at TCS so when the chance to participate presented, it was a very simple decision.
Volunteering has allowed me to understand how a national charity operates, and work with a number of impressive and passionate individuals to make a difference in the life of young people. Within my time volunteering I have worked with a number of the team on projects including missing and absent children, how vulnerable young people are identified and assessed by CAMHS, and briefly helped on research for the latest campaign Seriously Awkward. This campaign explores the causes and issues faced by vulnerable 16-17 year olds who too often fall through the gaps, in many cases they are no longer afforded the same protection as children yet do not qualify for the same rights as adults.
The Social Mobility & Child Poverty Commission highlights, “a poor rate of social mobility is a systemic problem in the UK, which originates in unequal opportunities for children according to social background from birth”. Too often, being born poor leads to a lifetime of poverty with both social disadvantage and advantage cascading through generations. Seriously Awkward explains that problems faced by vulnerable 16-17 year olds are numerous, complex and in many cases, interdependent. Through volunteering and collaborating with other departments, I was able to consider the link between poverty, vulnerability, and achievement, and the effect on those who are unable to access the support they require.
Academically capable teens from disadvantaged backgrounds struggle to attain in line with their ability with six out of ten failing to leave school with five A*-C GCSE’s including maths and English, compared to only one in three from more privileged backgrounds. A disadvantaged background typically denies wider opportunities including work experience, volunteering, internships and extra-curricular activities which play an important part in competitive employment.
36% of all those reported missing are aged 15-17 with 12,000 16-17 year-olds seeking support from local councils every year for homelessness. From frontline work undertaken by TCS, we know that 66% of young people at risk of homelessness are turned away by local councils with over half of their situations not being adequately assessed. Less than 18% those seeking support are placed in any type of accommodation and out of those, over 64% are denied sufficient financial aid. This means that the majority of 16-17 year olds are being refused any assessment into conditions that may require they leave the family home, including domestic violence, sexual abuse and neglect. 16-17 year olds are more likely to be the victims of abuse and neglect than any other age group with 25,000 categorised as children in need. Many face the decision of either becoming street homeless or returning to situations where they suffer mistreatment. Of those who do receive support, by failing to direct the young person to sources of sufficient financial aid this entrenches significant poverty.
Young people living independently who are unable to access financial support will need to seek employment and struggle to remain in education regardless of potential, yet 31% of economically active young people are unable to find work.. For apprentices the minimum wage is £2.73, yet 25% between 16 and 18 were paid below the minimum wage. Homelessness, neglect, financial pressure and under-attainment can be devastating to a young person’s mental health while conversely, a lack of mental health support may lead to the same problems. It is estimated by CAMHS that 20% of 16 to 24 year olds have a mental health disorder with the most common problems being identified as depression and anxiety. Despite this, CAMHS have seen a £79million cut in funding to their services in the previous three years.
Volunteering at TCS encourages foresight and hope. As a society, we would like to believe that hard work and effort and rewarded, however this is shown to not be true in most cases. By failing to ensure that disadvantaged 16-17 year olds are adequately safeguarded and able to thrive, the living standards of future generations are predetermined, yet through identifying these failings and increasing public awareness we can begin the process of finding a solution.
– Stephen Holden is a 2nd year Law student.