Millions of pupils are living vulnerable lives, children's commissioner warns

The lives of thousands of children are blighted by their parents' drug or alcohol abuse, warns commissioner Anne Longfield

Adi Bloom

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Millions of children in England are living vulnerable or high-risk lives, the children’s commissioner will say today.

In a new report, Anne Longfield has brought together information held by a range of government departments, to highlight the scale of vulnerability among English pupils.

The report states: “By ‘vulnerability’, we mean here the additional needs or barriers children face that may make them less likely to live healthy, happy, safe lives, or less likely to have successful transitions to adulthood.”

As Tes reported last week, Ms Longfield has said that she intends to dedicate the remainder of her time as commissioner to identifying and supporting vulnerable children who are falling through the gaps.

Victims of drugs and alcohol

A breakdown of numbers in the report reveals that almost 700,000 children are living in families that have vulnerabilities. This figure includes more than 15,000 children who live with an adult receiving treatment for alcohol addiction, and nearly 12,000 who live with an adult being treated for drug abuse.

There are other ways in which children are rendered vulnerable by their family circumstances: for example, 170,000 pupils are estimated to work as unpaid carers for family members. Many of these children have not been identified or offered support.

More than half a million children – 580,000, which is equivalent to the population of Manchester – are so vulnerable that the state has had to step in and provide care or support. Large numbers – 119,000 – are either homeless or living in unstable housing.

And there are 370,000 children who have been put at risk as a result of their own actions. These include 160,000 pupils who have been temporarily or permanently excluded from school. And an estimated 46,000 children are thought to be members of gangs.

In addition, 800,000 pupils between the ages of 5 and 17 have been diagnosed with mental health disorders, and 200,000 have been judged by their local authority to have experienced trauma or abuse.

Around 1,200 children per year become victims of modern slavery.

'Unidentified and invisible'

The report points out that many of these calculated figures are likely to underestimate the real total. It states: “Identifying all children in each group is challenging. Many of our numbers only capture children who are vulnerable and known to services…

“Behind the confusion are unidentified and invisible children, suffering a variety of harms and risks.”

The children’s commissioner has divided these groups of vulnerable children into 32 categories. The aim is that this will enable her office to track child vulnerability more effectively, and, therefore, address its causes.

“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” Ms Longfield said. “The truth is that nobody knows the exact number of vulnerable children.

“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.”

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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