Child protection has forgotten the over-10s

As the Munro review is published, we need to keep sending the message that safeguarding extends to every person up to the age of 18, says Carlene Firmin

All children have the right to be protected from violence and abuse: whether it has come at the hands of their families, peers or strangers. But is that right respected for all children, or just those under the age of 10? It is highly questionable whether safeguarding children’s boards, which have a duty to co-ordinate how agencies work together to safeguard and promote the wellbeing of children, consider the over-10s to be their responsibility.

A survey of such boards last year showed that fewer than a quarter had a strategy to tackle child sexual exploitation, which is a key safeguarding issue for thousands of children, the vast majority of whom are over the age of 10. But children are children until they are 18; and even then don’t miraculously stop needing support or protection.

Serious case reviews enable us to see how we have failed in the past to protect children from violence and abuse. When the media highlights these, it is often to question why yet another child has died in their home when there were multiple opportunities, for the public or professionals, to intervene early and prevent serious harm. But what about the children who die on the streets? What about children who are killed by other children? How many serious case reviews have been conducted of these deaths, and lessons learned about early intervention?

Early intervention is not the same as early years intervention. Early intervention means stepping in and preventing future harm, whatever the age of the person you are seeking to protect. Surely, we are not saying that for those children killed on the streets there was never an opportunity to intervene early (whether it be with the perpetrators or the victims) preventing another life lost and families destroyed?

Only last week, researchers at the University of Warwick published findings that revealed a drastic fall in child deaths at the hands of adults in the home. The same report, however, noted an increase since the 1990s in the number of “adolescents” who had died as a result of assault, and attributed this to gang- and weapon-related youth violence.

“These adolescents are children!” I found myself screaming. We may have achieved a decrease in children under one year dying, but there has been an increase in older children dying – and where is the child protection response?

It is beyond frustrating to see the death of older children automatically placed within a gang violence framework, implying that any response would be rooted in police and other justice agencies. But it is the responsibility of social services and safeguarding children boards to protect these children, too.

In the wake of today’s publication of the Munro review of child protection I can’t help but feel as though older children have been forgotten, again. While I agree with the tone of the review, we need to keep sending the message that safeguarding extends to every person up to the age of 18.

When you have met children who have been sexually exploited, moved around the country to be abused over and over again; who live with the trauma of seeing their friend murdered in front of them; who are too afraid to make the journey to and from school because they fear for their life – you can’t help but wonder who is protecting them. Then there are the hundreds who die every year as a result of suicide, eating disorders and drug and alcohol misuse.

The over-10s are seen as young people, not children – but we don’t have “young people protection”. We do, however, have child protection and public protection. Young people are children and they are the public. Their safety is our business and they should be protected. The sad fact for so many is that they are not.

• Carlene Firmin is founder of the Gag Project and assistant director, policy and research, at Barnardo’s.