120,000 teenagers are at risk of never returning to full-time education and are easy prey for criminal gangs, the Children’s Commissioner has warned.
Vulnerable youngsters aged between 13 and 17 who were already “slipping through the gaps in the system” before the coronavirus pandemic struck are likely to have drifted even further during lockdown.
By September, thousands of teenagers will have spent up to six months out of school and potentially also out of reach from social services, according to a new report commissioned by Anne Longfield.
These youngsters may struggle to return to “normal” when schools reopen in September and risk dropping out altogether, meaning they will become “easy prey” for criminal gangs to groom and recruit.
“With schools closed to most teenagers for half a year, and face-to-face children’s social care provision being curbed, these teens risk becoming even more ‘invisible’ than before,” the report said.
The risks focused on here – such as persistent absence from school, exclusions, alternative provision, dropping out of the school system in Year 11, or going missing from care – are important signals of children at higher risk of future educational failure and unemployment, as well as of falling into crime and criminal exploitation.”
Ms Longfield has urged ministers to work with police chiefs, schools and local authorities to identify these teenagers and target them with extra support as lockdown lifts.
“We must not look back in five years at a generation of vulnerable teenagers who fell out of society and ended up drifting into crime and unemployment,” she said.
The report found that 123,000 youngsters, which equates to one in 25 teenagers in England, are at risk of “falling through the gaps”, which the Children’s Commissioner defines as those who are vulnerable but not yet known to the social care system.
This could include those who have been expelled from school, those who regularly play truant, and those who are in care but frequently go missing.
Summer schemes, including sports clubs and youth, would be a good way to re-engage teenagers over the summer, the report says.
By taking part in structured activities during the summer holidays, led by trusted adults and role models, youngsters would be better placed to re-integrate into the education system in September.
“Even before the lockdown, 1 in 25 teenagers in England were falling through gaps in the school or social services systems,” Ms Longfield said. “This puts them at increased risk of unemployment or of exploitation by gangs and organised criminals.
“This summer I am particularly worried that teenagers who have finished year 11, who have seen their apprenticeship collapse, or have simply lost their way through lockdown will simply fall off the radar.”
The Children’s Commissioner pointed out that teenagers in colleges have so far been left out of catch-up funding.
Source: The Telegraph