Taking a collaborative approach to childhood vulnerability.

Earlier this month, the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield OBE, published her report “On measuring the number of vulnerable children in England”. It unearthed a stack of worrying statistics, including the fact that 670,000 children are growing up in ‘high risk’ family situations and 800,000 children are suffering from mental health difficulties.

But aside from the headline figures mentioned widely in the press, the report brings to light another issue relating to childhood vulnerability in general. It confirms the view that this is a deeply complex area requiring a collaborative multi-agency approach.

The report sets out 32 different types of vulnerability, for example, “Children who are subject to child protection plans”, “Children in low-income families” and “Young people who are involved in gangs”. It attempts to calculate the number of children within each group but acknowledges that they’re not mutually exclusive.

This is an important point as it demonstrates that children can’t be pigeonholed into box X, Y or Z. Every vulnerable child has a unique set of circumstances and requires tailored support at the right time from the most appropriate agency.

At Empowering Communities, our clients are helping young people with many different combinations of vulnerability. They’re providing wraparound support for every individual by securely sharing information between teams. For example, in both Peterborough and Wellingborough, practitioners from multiple agencies are collaborating to reduce the number of school exclusions.

The report points out that children at risk of exclusion are often facing a range of other issues that serve to compound their situation.

  • “The permanent exclusion rate for looked after children in 2014 was 0.13% compared to 0.06% of all children”.
  • “There is some unquantified evidence that children who have mental health issues are more likely to be absent and excluded from school.”
  • “In 2009–10, 16.7% of Black Caribbean pupils received exclusions. This compared with 5.04% of all pupils.”

Permanent school exclusion itself can also trigger further vulnerabilities and many excluded children end up in the prison system. A report by the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons discovered that 85% of boys in detention had been excluded from school.

Peterborough City Council’s Pupil Referral Scheme

The Pupil Referral Service helps children that are either at risk of permanent exclusion or already excluded. It looks to tackle issues earlier, by involving a multidisciplinary panel that can wrap support around a child and their family. The Behavioural Support Panel includes council representatives, an educational psychologist, a mental health nurse and a practitioner from the Children and Adults Mental Health Service.

Every Friday, the team get together to discuss the various cases brought to them by schools that week. These discussions often form the basis of action plans that deliver the right kind of support before it’s too late. The panel can help in several ways — as Peterborough’s Head of Service, Claire George, explains:

“We allocate an Intervention Specialist Worker so the family has a dedicated point of contact and we arrange for any referrals for support required as a result of the family assessment. It’s not just behavioural or emotional support that we can signpost to, we also offer support for issues such as drug and alcohol problems, rent arrears or mental health issues to the family unit as a whole.”

As a result, over the last two years, there have been only two permanent exclusions. Prior to the scheme, there were one or two exclusions every three weeks.

Northamptonshire Police and early intervention

In Wellingborough, the police are working closely with schools to keep young people within the education system. The aim is to divert them away from crime by intervening earlier. In practice, this involves creating a prioritised list of those most at risk of exclusion and discussing this with several partners, including youth service providers, schools, housing and family centres. Relevant action is then taken, based on the outcome of these discussions.

The Commissioner’s report illustrates that vulnerability in childhood has a myriad of nuances and intertwined complexities. With this in mind, it’s clear that every vulnerable child needs a tailored level of support that cuts across traditional departmental boundaries. I’m proud to be involved with hundreds of schemes across the UK that are sharing information for the greater good and intervening when it matters the most.

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