25 Jun 2015

Tens of thousands of older teenagers in London feel unsafe in the city – and thousands run away from home every year, according to new research by The Children’s Society.

The charity highlighted the figures as it prepares to unveil a network of services across the capital to tackle the risks facing the city’s vulnerable young people.

In a survey by the charity, whose new London hub will launch on July 2, a third of 16 and 17-year-olds told The Children’s Society they feel unsafe in common public areas like bus stations, train stations, or car parks – that’s equivalent to 61,000 young people across the city.

Almost one in five (19%) reported feeling unsafe in youth or after school clubs. And 7% say they even feel unsafe in their own home – twice the level of the rest of the country.

Constant access to the internet and social media is creating new pressures and risks, with one in eight (12%) now reporting that they do not feel safe online.

It is clear from the figures – from a UK-wide survey carried out for The Children’s Society by Opinium – that 16 and 17-year-olds feel under pressure to do a range of things they might not freely choose to do. About one in seven respondents (13%) said they had found themselves under pressure to spend time with people they did not feel comfortable with. And one in ten said they felt pressurised to have sex.

At the same time, a worryingly low proportion of teenagers say they would choose to go to the authorities for help if one of their friends got into trouble. Only 16% said they would go to a professional if a friend was experiencing exploitation. Even fewer would go to authorities for help if their friend was in a damaging relationship (6%) or had run away from home (11%).

Separate research by The Children’s Society, based on Freedom of Information requests submitted to London local authorities, shows at least 2,000 young people went missing from home across 20 London boroughs last year. Too few of them are getting an independent return interview – meaning they may be left without follow-up support and placed at greater risk.

All the findings have been published in a new report, Streets of London: Keeping Adolescents Safe.

Far from being streetwise and able to protect themselves, as they are sometimes characterised, older teens are more likely to be victims of crime and are particularly vulnerable to abuse and neglect.

But teenagers suffering abuse and neglect are being overlooked by children’s services because they are deemed older and more resilient – even when they lack the financial independence to remove themselves from harmful situations.

The Children’s Society’s network of projects will bring together the expertise of practitioners across the capital to reach out to young people facing issues such as sexual exploitation, trafficking, destitution and going missing from home. It will also advocate for some of the most vulnerable young people living in the city, such as refugees and migrants and young people who are disabled.

The work to support vulnerable teenagers is being supported by a campaign launching on June 26, Seriously Awkward, asking the Government to do more to protect vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds from harm, abuse and neglect.

Sherry Peck, Area Director for The Children’s Society in London, said: 'Too many older teenagers in London are living in fear for their safety and we need to challenge the idea that 16 and 17-year-olds don’t require as much protection as younger children. In fact they are more likely to find themselves in risky situations, without the life experience to deal with them, and many vulnerable young people are in desperate need of help.

'The Children’s Society’s network of services across the capital will be fully focused on providing support to transform the lives of vulnerable teenagers who run away from home, or who are at risk of sexual exploitation or mental illness. We will work with local authorities to achieve this but we also need Government to take action to make sure that older teenagers get the legal protection they deserve.'

In London…
• 518,892 children live in poverty – 74% of whose parents are in work
• More than 1 in 10 children and young people have a clinically significant mental health condition.
• An estimated 3,420 children aged 16 and 17 asked their local authority for help last year because they were at risk of becoming homeless.
• The number of children subject to a Child Protection Plan has increased by 40% in the last decade.
• Young people in the most deprived areas are six times more likely to be the victims of crime than those living in the wealthiest areas.

The Children’s Society in London – services for vulnerable teenagers

Child Sexual Exploitation Services:
Havering Child Sexual Exploitation Service
Safe Choices: Leaving Care and Custody
Camden Child Sexual Exploitation Service
The US Project (understanding sexual exploitation)
The Boys and Young Men Project
Missing from Home and Care:
Camden Missing Service
Havering Missing Service
Refugee and Migrant Services:
Family Voice
Supported Options Project
Destitution Project
Stand by Me
Trafficking Services:
The Rise Project
Advocacy Services:
Havering Advocacy Service
Tower Hamlets Disability Advocacy Service
Emotional Wellbeing:
Step and Connect

Media enquiries

For more information or an interview, please call The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422, 07775 812 357 or email media@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.

Notes to Editors:

• The report, Streets of London: Keeping Adolescents Safe, is available here: www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-we-do/resources-and-publications/streets-of-london-keeping-adolescents-safe
• Survey results are based on an online Opinium poll of 1,004 16 and 17-year-olds and 1,004 parents conducted across the UK in June 2014.
• The Children’s Society sent Freedom of Information requests to all 33 London boroughs, asking them how many incidents of children and young people running away from home they had recorded. 26 boroughs responded.
• The Children’s Society has helped change children’s stories for over a century. We expose injustice and address hard truths, tackling child poverty and neglect head-on. We fight for change based on the experiences of every child we work with and the solid evidence we gather. Through our campaigning, commitment and care, we are determined to give every child in this country the greatest possible chance in life. For more information visit: childrenssociety.org.uk