Posted: 18 August 2016

Seriously Awkward school holidays

School holidays for most young people and families can be an enjoyable break from the academic year. However, for those experiencing hardship, abuse or grooming this can be a time of extreme trauma, stressful decision making and pressure to comply with others.

Having worked with young people for over 10 years I know summer holidays can bring real challenges for vulnerable young people and their families.

A stressful time for families

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Help us protect the most vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds

Those young people who depend on the structure of the school day and free school meals can endure a school holiday of uncertainty; not knowing if they will eat or how they will occupy themselves.

Families experiencing financial hardship often report difficulties with ‘days out’ – facing the choice: ‘should I feed the family and pay the rent or take the kids out?’

Many young people can be left unattended as parents must go to work, or their parents have a perception that they are ‘old enough’ to deal with situations in the home and fend for themselves.

Young people have spoken to me about how they feel bored and lonely during school holidays.

For the most vulnerable young people, those without friends or family support, this can be a recipe for disaster.

Without routine, young people at risk of sexual exploitation are more vulnerable

Young people who are at risk of exploitation or who are the subject of any level of abuse often dread the school holidays as they no longer have a routine and a safe place to go.  

Young people, who are left unattended for a long period of time and without family support, can flounder and be more vulnerable to further harm from perpetrators.

Perpetrators of abuse know it’s the holidays

This is the biggest area of worry, perpetrators of abuse are well aware that young people do not have to be at school.

Vulnerable young people are extremely susceptible to 'a better offer', for instance the offer of a 'free road trip' or a 'free party'.

Older associates have been known to coax young people to get in their car for a ‘thrill ride’ to take the boring factor out of school holidays.

When vulnerable young people do not have access to activities either because of confidence, money or perhaps learning difficulties, it is increasingly easy for them to become involved in a web of lies, deceit and exploitation.

In addition to being harmed or experiencing fractured / volatile relationships, these young people are likely to run away more frequently in an effort to reach a safe place. This can lead to further dangers.

What we do to help

We know the opportunity for young people to be exploited, suffer abuse or for the grooming process to be initiated is heightened at school holidays. So here at SCARPA we make specific provisions for this challenging time of the year.

During the holidays we’re more flexible with our approach to visits.

We try to be creative and focus on the needs of a young person. I try to use my appointments as constructive activities; looking for free events or youth clubs with a nominal charge in the community to sign post and encourage attendance to positive events and programs.

For those where engaging with community activities is not possible I take the opportunity to take those on my case load to the beach for a walk and coffee with lunch, or perhaps a lunch session to reward the level of engagement - be it a trip to the cinema or bowling. 

It’s so important to engage with young people on their terms and to build a relationship with them.

I know the work I do with them on a one to one basis is vital. I’m also aware that this older age group is particularly vulnerable and that’s why I’m supporting the Seriously Awkward campaign.

Seriously Awkward Summer Holidays

The Seriously Awkward campaign is calling on the Government to strengthen the protections and improve the support for 16 and 17 year olds at risk of sexual exploitation.

This particularly vulnerable group are not getting the same protection from sexual exploitation as younger children despite the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child stating that every child up to the age of 18 should be protected from abuse.

Please take action today to stand up for vulnerable young people's rights.

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By Karen Satchell - Programme staff
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Help us protect the most vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds

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