Posted: 14 July 2016

A child psychologist’s view of that Seriously Awkward age

As a child and adolescent clinical psychologist, I wholeheartedly support the Seriously Awkward campaign.

Even after 25 years, I am often horrified by the life stories of some of the distressed young people who come to use child mental health services.

Many of these stories are too horrifying to describe: lives characterised by poverty, abuse and neglect; experiences that leave young people at risk of sexual exploitation and of developing lifelong mental health problems.

16 and 17 year olds are often the most vulnerable. There is a belief in practice that these young people are capable of protecting themselves. This, alongside confusions in the law and a lack of resources, only adds to the plight of these young people.

That’s why I’m supporting the campaign and ask you to take action today and stand up for the rights of these highly vulnerable young people.

As a clinical psychologist, I truly believe that professionals do their best. However, in my view, the findings from the Seriously Awkward report accurately reflect the common misperceptions of professionals and parents that vulnerable 16 to 18 year olds are coping and able to protect themselves. Because of this awkward age, it is highly likely that they will be considered to be “thriving” and could be refused the professional help that they require.

This notion that 16 and 17 year olds can look after themselves means their vulnerability is overlooked. I have experience of children being assessed as capable of protecting themselves who are then sexually exploited. For instance, professionals believed one girl was capable deciding for herself that she should live with a sick relative, putting her in the role of a lone young carer. In this vulnerable position, she was later befriended by a man who viscously raped her.

This is why it’s vital these young people can be protected by the police in a similar way to younger teenagers.

In my experience, young people aged between 16 to 18 years who require mental health serves are also significantly disadvantaged. There can be confusion in some areas about who sees them, adult or child services; with struggles about local arrangements and confusion over what constitutes childhood.

I’m astounded that young people who are suspected of being sexually exploited aren’t getting their mental health needs assessed as a matter of course.

My time as a child psychologist has shown me that 16 and 17 year olds are a highly vulnerable group, but they can be protected and supported. I urge you to join me in supporting this crucial campaign.

The Children’s Society is responding to a consultation on the Policing and Crime Bill and they need your input. This is a crucial opportunity to show the Government that the gaps in the law mean that the rights of 16 and 17 year olds are being ignored.

Please, take a moment and join me in telling them why these young people’s rights to be protected and supported need to be upheld.


Join the campaign

Help us protect the most vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds


Read more

A busy year for the Seriously Awkward campaign

Posted: 19 May 2016


Read more

What is the Joint Committee on Human Rights?

Posted: 1 July 2016