Posted: 05 August 2015

Recognising when teenagers need protection

Our Seriously Awkward report showed that as many as 500,000 16 and 17 year olds across the UK may be facing risk factors in their lives that make vulnerable and jeopardise their future life chances.

The report also highlighted that positive relationships with families and carers play a very important role in helping young people deal with issues and stay safe.

We're now looking at what support some of the most vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds need to get them ready for adult life and to prevent them falling through the cracks in services.

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Sign our petition

Change the law to protect 16 and 17 year olds from abuse, harm and neglect. 

Relationships matter

Supportive, trusting relationships with an adult are as important for older teenagers as they are for young children, which is often overlooked when decisions are made about support for vulnerable older teenagers, like those:

  • who run away from home
  • who are at risk of child sexual exploitation
  • who experience neglect and abuse at home

Our research found that, on average, 16 and 17 year olds who reported not feeling supported by their families in most things they do faced five different risk factors compared to those in other families facing just three.

Young people told us that support from families is one of the key things that helps them withstand pressures to take part in activities that may lead to risks, such as drinking and taking drugs, staying out late or trying legal highs – 50% of 16 and 17 year olds reported this.

Graph: What do young people say helps those who feel pressurised to do things

Older teenagers are at risk of abuse and neglect

Most young people grow up in loving and caring families, which are a source of guidance and support when the child turns 16 and starts making independent decisions and choices about their future. 

But a significant number of 16 and 17 year olds are not getting the support they need.  Based on our analysis of the data from the Understanding Society Survey, we estimate that around one in three 16 and 17 year olds do not feel supported by their families in most of the things they do.

This lack of support has some serious consequences. Official statistics show that 16 and 17 year-olds are more likely to be found by children’s services to be ‘children in need’ than younger children. ‘Children in need’ are children whose health and development are likely to be impaired if support is not provided.

Last year there were more than 70,000 16 and 17 year olds who were classed as children in need, and of those teenagers, around 25,000 were in need because of abuse and neglect they experienced at home.

A further 1,350 children aged 16 and over were recognised by children’s services to be at risk of significant harm. Our graph illustrates the types of risks they faced.

Graph: Reason 16–17 year olds are subject to a child protection plan

16 and 17 year olds not offered protection

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children Act recognises 16 and 17 year olds as children. Yet they are often denied the support they need in practice - and UK laws do not consistently treat them as children when it comes to protecting them from abuse and neglect at home.

Over nine out of 10 young people aged 16 and 17 continue living with their parents and carers relying on emotional and financial support from their families to the same extent as children under the age of 16. Changes to welfare and education legislation in recent years and a lower minimum wage than for workers over the age of 18 mean that living independently is no longer a viable option for young people aged 16 and 17.

This is a particular problem for 16 and 17 year olds who experience cruelty and neglect at home. Despite this, the law does not recognise cruelty and neglect to 16 and 17 year olds as an offence, meaning that parents who treat their 16 or 17 year old child with cruelty cannot be prosecuted.   

Sign our petition

Our Seriously Awkward campaign is calling on the Government to improve support for vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds, and change legislation where it falls short of offering them protection.

We’re calling for the law on child cruelty and neglect to recognise that 16 and 17 year olds can be victims of child cruelty and neglect and for housing legislation to be amended to ensure that people aged 16 and 17 cannot be evicted from their accommodation and thus be considered intentionally homeless by local authorities, which can prevent them from getting further help with housing. 

Sign our petition today.

By Iryna Pona - Policy team
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Sign our petition

Change the law to protect 16 and 17 year olds from abuse, harm and neglect. 

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Read more

Seriously Awkward: Why 16 and 17 year olds need our help

Posted: 24 June 2015

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Seriously Awkward: Full report

Posted: 25 June 2015