The social and personal costs of adverse outcomes for vulnerable adolescents are unacceptably and unnecessarily high. This is particularly true for those who have overlapping or complex challenges with mental health, school attendance, the care system and the criminal justice system. However, there is a puzzling reluctance across Whitehall to provide any strategic leadership and there is fragmented ownership between departments of the problems facing those vulnerable adolescents with complex and overlapping needs. There is also only limited understanding of the challenges and the overlaps or of the pathways young people take through the maze of support available to them. Until government joins up its strategic thinking and improves working within government, and between central and local government, costs will remain unnecessarily high.
While there is much that is good and effective in locally provided support for vulnerable adolescents, there is also much that is not well-understood or where data is incomplete. For example, we found that certain groups are disproportionately likely to experience adverse outcomes. But we found a concerning lack of understanding about particular issues, including local variation in outcomes, why so many girls are seeking support for mental health issues and why the proportion of children in youth custody from ethnic minority backgrounds has increased so dramatically. We have therefore called on Government to clarify and strengthen the ownership of this problem and, for the first time, to report annually on progress in improving the lives of adolescents.
We were disappointed to find that local multi-agency safeguarding partnerships, designed to join up local partners in supporting children and families, are still not good enough everywhere. Vulnerable adolescents and their supporters are left to navigate fragmented arrangements with the risk they fall through the gaps between different local organisations and so do not receive the help and support they need, with sometimes tragic consequences. We look to Government, as it responds to the Care Review, to make sure that local services are not just reformed but that they are known to be working as intended.