Major study highlights need for new approach to protecting older children

Major study highlights need for new approach to protecting older children Major study highlights need for new approach to protecting older children

A new approach to child protection for older children is urgently needed in order to ensure their safeguarding, according to a three year study, published today by The Children’s Society, the NSPCC and the University of York and funded by the Big Lottery.

Safeguarding Young People found that the needs of 11-17 year olds were not always met by child protection processes which are more geared to protecting younger children.

The study found that a lack of resources in Children’s Social Care Services can negatively affect older children, whereas younger children in similar circumstances may be prioritised.

Policymakers should consider a review of current alternative approaches to determine what works best for young people and attempt to bring more consistency to service provision.

The project linked a comprehensive international literature review, an analysis of policy and guidance about safeguarding, a survey of 160 professionals in Children’s Social Care Services and potential referring agencies in 12 areas and a study of the practice in four areas, including interviews with 24 young people and 56 professionals.

One key issue highlighted by the study was that young people found a huge difficulty in disclosing maltreatment. Not only do they struggle to strike up trusting relationships with a consistent professional (social workers are often overworked and a young person’s social worker can often change), but even when they have this relationship they are acutely aware of the potential ramifications for themselves and their family of disclosing abuse.

Additionally, young people did not always have sufficient knowledge or information on how best to make the disclosure. The research highlights a lack of services for young people over 14 which may deter professionals (such as teachers and police) from making referrals.

The study also highlighted a problem with some professionals’ perceptions of the abilities of older children. It found that 11-17 year olds were often seen as more competent to deal with maltreatment than younger children, including being able to escape abusive situations and seek help, as well as being perceived by some professionals as more ‘resilient’ – i.e. more able to cope with experiences of maltreatment.

These perceptions are not supported by research evidence on this topic. It is important that the evidence on this issue is more effectively given to practitioners and commissioners. The implications for training, practice and service provision must be fully considered.

The research made a number of other recommendations including:

    * More service provision for young people, particularly in the 14–17 age group that can engage them and meet their needs.
    * Peers and schools are an important source of support to young people. Models such as safeguarding forums in schools, or the use of safeguarding mentors in secondary schools, may help young people to identify who to speak to and support them to disclose abuse. These could work alongside the child protection leads in schools and feed their views into Local Safeguarding Children Boards.
    * A young person’s guide on “what to do if a friend is being abused” should be developed to support young people in advising their friends and to provide information about how young people can access help.
    * Most of the young people interviewed for the study were confused about what had happened to them at different stages of the safeguarding process and why and what different professionals’ roles are. Simple and clear information about the process needs to be made available to young people who come into contact with Children’s Social Care Services.

Bob Reitemeier, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: “Many older children who we work with are just as vulnerable as younger children, if not more so. It’s important that we review the way we support these young people and which approach works best for them once they have disclosed maltreatment.”

Recommendations were made by Lord Laming in 2009 about the safeguarding of children and young people and many important changes have already been made. Laming recommended an enhancement of the professional training, support and supervision for the social care work force and this research mirrors that recommendation.

Professor Munro is currently undertaking a review of the child protection system.  It is important that she considers what needs to change in order to ensure that older children (11-17) receive the same level of protection and quality of service as those who are younger.

Phillip Noyes, NSPCC director of strategy and development said: “We know from this research and calls to ChildLine that many young people find it difficult to tell someone they are being abused. Children and young people must have access to safe confidential spaces so they can speak about abuse and get help.”

Professor Mike Stein, of the Social Policy Research Unit at the University of York, added: “Society is very quick in condemning the behaviour of teenagers. This research shows that we are far less responsive in understanding and meeting the needs of those young people who are maltreated.”