Seriously Awkward: Crumbling futures

Vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds are missing out on support as they move into adulthood

16 and 17 can be awkward ages, but it’s seriously awkward that too often vital support falls short for 58,000 vulnerable teenagers - and can disappear overnight at 18.

Our research has found that many vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds need more support as they move into adulthood, as teenagers currently aren’t getting the chances they deserve in life. 


Nearly 60,000

16–17 year olds are ‘children in need’



1 in 5

16 and 17 year olds experience five or more issues in their lives




of 16 and 17 year olds referred to children’s services receive no further action




who are referred to children’s services have had previous referrals in the preceding one to two years



1 in 3

referrals of 16 and 17 year olds to children’s services come from the police



Right now, the Government is reviewing the support these vulnerable young people receive. Sign our letter to the Children’s Minister to make sure 16 and 17 year olds get more help.


Falling through the gaps

Children who require extra support to develop and stay healthy are some of the most vulnerable children in society. They are officially known by children’s services as ‘children in need’. These children face complex problems like domestic violence, mental health problems and poverty.

What we found - our Seriously Awkward Report

At 16 and 17 young people are making important choices about what they want to do with their lives. Even with support, it’s hard for children to prepare to juggle new responsibilities such as housing, education, employment, budgeting and relationships. Alone, it’s almost impossible.

In Year 9 I missed a lot because I had really bad depression and anxiety and it was too much of a struggle to get out of bed in the morning... I never wanted to go in, so I missed quite a lot.


Young person, age 19


The issues young people face are complex

16 and 17 year olds are more likely than younger children to experience vulnerabilities associated with themselves, such as:

  • mental health problems
  • substance misuse
  • going missing from home
  • being at risk of sexual or other forms of exploitation
  • domestic violence.

You get given loads and loads more responsibilities and more decisions to make, and sometimes you get stressed and the stress makes you develop anxiety and depression and stuff.


Young person, age 14

Courtney's story

Courtney had a difficult start in life and is entering adulthood with little support. This is her story.

A tough start...

Courtney’s father committed suicide when she was still in primary school and her mum struggled to cope both emotionally and financially, resulting in debt.

They moved house a lot and and the instability greatly affected Courtney and, as her teenage years approached, she began to experience mental health issues.

In need of help...

Courtney was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, which had a huge impact on her education.

She received some therapy but not enough. This left her feeling unsupported and still needing help with her anxiety during a very stressful time. As a result, Courtney left school having failed some of her GCSEs.

16 and struggling to cope...

At 16, Courtney was still experiencing anxiety and depression, yet she received no support from services.

Her mum was diagnosed with health problems and their relationship soon deteriorated.

Courtney often found herself staying on a friend’s sofa or floor.

Homeless at 17...

At 17, Courtney’s anxiety made it difficult for her to continue with her studies, so she left college and became an apprentice. She struggled to get by on a very low wage.

For three months, Courtney relied on friends for a place to stay.

Homeless and unsure of where to turn for help, she was referred to her local council and after a few months, Courtney moved into housing.

Courtney had been assigned a support worker, but only saw them just a handful of times and they were unable to offer her much financial support, due to her being employed. At points, Courtney was relying on a food bank to eat.

18 and nowhere to turn...

At 18, Courtney was made redundant from her apprenticeship, which left her with no income at all.

Even though Courtney is a vulnerable young person, at 18 years old any help from the council is now unavailable to her.

With no family around her for support and nowhere to turn for help, she continues to struggle with her mental health and must support herself while she looks for employment.


But all of this could have been different...

Children’s services have a duty to step in and provide support for children who are experiencing serious difficulties in their lives.

But we know that for many 16 and 17 year olds, support is too short term, does not help them prepare for adulthood and can disappear when they reach 18.

We can’t wait while teenagers fall between the cracks of childhood and adulthood.

We need action now

Right now, the Government is reviewing the support these vulnerable young people receive. It’s a perfect opportunity to give 16 and 17 year olds more help.

Sign our letter to the Children’s Minister today.


Our recommen­dations


The Government must use the Children in Need Review to propose changes for how 16 and 17 year olds who are children in need are supported into adulthood, to ensure that they are able to reach their full potential.


Children aged 16 and 17 years old who are referred to children’s services should not be dismissed without an assessment of their needs.


Transition planning should be made a statutory requirement in every child in need and child protection plan for children aged 16 and 17.


The Government should allocate adequate additional resources to local authorities.


Local authorities should design and plan services around transition, and should consider the extension of key services.

read our full report