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Laws for teenagers are 'dangerously inconsistent'

26 June 2015

children’s society

At risk: teenagers are "extremely vulnerable" when they leave care

At risk: teenagers are "extremely vulnerable" when they leave care

VULNERABLE teenagers are "falling painfully between the cracks" of childhood and adulthood, as statutory services fail to recognise their needs, a new report from the Children's Society warns.

The protection and support of childhood are too often "stripped away" as teenagers "face huge life challenges", says the report Seriously Awkward, published today. This is partly owing to "dangerous inconsistencies in the law, and alarming inadequacies in services", but also because they are failed by professionals, who may see them as "troublesome rather than in need".

It warns that teenagers' reluctance to engage with the statutory services is "mistakenly perceived by professionals as a signal that help is not needed. . . In the worst cases, they can be seen as beyond help, and left to go it alone."

Those aged 16 and 17 are more likely than any other age group to be known to services as "children in need" because of abuse and neglect at home, to go missing, or to be victims of violent crime. They are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse, exploitation, and trafficking. The report estimates that about half a million of them face at least five risk-factors.

Inconsistencies in the law include the fact that the Children and Young Persons Act (1933) does not include this age group in legal protection from child cruelty.

A poll of 1000 16- and 17-year-olds carried out for the report found that those from poor backgrounds reported higher levels of unhappiness than those whose families were well off: 39 per cent to 81 per cent.

The Children's Society is calling for legal changes, including amendment of the Housing Act so that 16- and 17-year-olds cannot be evicted from accommodation and become "intentionally homeless"; and also for a right to support from mental-health services when they need it.

"We see behind the armour teenagers so often put on to shield themselves," the charity's CEO, Matthew Reid, writes in a foreword to the report. That armour "makes them seem difficult, when what they need most is someone who cares".

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