In this past week two reports have reminded me again of the magnitude of the challenge we face as a society, the need to offer young people access to excellent youth work and the responsibility all staff need to take for ensuring Youth First is credible and sustainable. Specifically the importance in our work of getting upstream and tackling issues for young people and ensuring that what we provide young people the means to develop life skills to be resilient to all that life may throw at them.
The first of these is the report on Jersey's care homes, which details decades of failings to children in care and the horrors that can occur when those charged with this duty fall short or worse actively choose to harm. The second, from the Children's commissioner, Anne Longfield, is a report on vulnerable children in the UK. This too makes sombre although perhaps for youth workers, unsurprising, reading. Detailing a story all too familiar with massive amounts of unmet and even previously unrecognised vulnerabilities in the UK. Let me offer a brief summary...
Delving into the mass of statistics among the children it reports as 'in jeopardy' are 580,000 receiving some form of care or support from the state, 670,000 whose families seen as vulnerable and 370,000 whose actions put them at risk. Within the last group it reports an estimated 46,000 or more gang members aged 10 to 18, almost 55,000 children reported as missing, almost 160,000 excluded from school and 30,000 involved in the criminal justice system. In the category of children in vulnerable families are included more than 27,000 children living with an adult currently having drug or alcohol treatment and almost 120,000 who are homeless or living in temporary accommodation. Children who experience long term health or mental health problems, or who had special educational needs or a disability, cover a staggering 2.3 million. On all this the commissioner offers a chilling perspective noting that the half a million children in care due to vulnerability is a number equivalent to the entire population of Manchester.
Perhaps most shockingly however is that these stats are referred to as just "the tip of the iceberg". Longfield notes that "The truth is nobody knows the exact number of vulnerable children. We can trace in minute detail the academic progress of a child from four to 18 and beyond, but when it comes to describing and assessing the scale of negative factors in a child’s life which will hamper their progress, we are floundering".
In other words this shocking and massive problem could and likely is even bigger.
However, we should welcome the report and the admission of the scale of the challenge with Longfield going on to echo Youth First’s own vision saying "What we do know is that even these numbers are unacceptably high. Our ambition as a nation should be for all our children to live happy and healthy lives. This report shows that millions are not doing so – and that has to change."
I hope that the report might represent a recognition from those with power of the need for services like ours. Services which act both as sites to pick up issues but also as a means to empower young people and families to help themselves. I know regardless of whether this is heard, that Youth First will refuse to be paralysed by the challenge but instead use it as further evidence that we are doing the right thing. That despite any practical or logistical challenges that each member of staff will not waiver from setting and meeting the highest standards in all we do and that we will all take responsibility to genuinely make safeguarding and early intervention the basis of all we do.