Children’s Commissioner warning over coronavirus ‘lost generation’ of vulnerable teens
Anne Longfield, England’s Children’s Commissioner, says the far-reaching effects coronavirus could see a ‘lost generation’ of vulnerable teenagers falling through gaps in the school and care systems.
In a new report, Teenagers falling through the gaps, she highlights the risks affecting tens of thousands of teenagers, including persistent school absenteeism, exclusions, alternative provision and going missing from care.
The commissioner talks about the heightened impact of the lockdown on some 120,000 teenagers aged 13-17 in England who, even before the coronavirus took hold, were already slipping ‘out of sight’. She warns that these children could be joined by many more who will find it a real challenge to get back to ‘normal’ after as many as six months out of school.
Unless these children are re-engaged in and by society, adds Longfield, a whole generation of vulnerable teenagers could be failed by the education system, face unemployment or eve face being pulled into a life of exploitation and crime.
We need to identify these children quickly
The report urges local councils to work with schools and police forces to focus resources on these at-risk young people who may become ‘invisible’ to the authorities or have gone missing while the lockdown has been imposed. It also calls for summer schemes, sports clubs, play schemes, holiday and youth clubs to do their bit by providing a safe and stimulating environment for teenagers’ interests.
“Even before the lockdown, 1 in 25 teenagers in England were falling through gaps in the school or social services systems,” said Anne Longfield. “This puts them at increased risk of unemployment or of exploitation by gangs and organised criminals. This summer I am particularly worried that teenagers who have finished year 11, who have seen their apprenticeship collapse, or have simply lost their way through lockdown will simply fall off the radar. Teenagers in colleges have so far been left out of catch-up funding.
‘A whole generation could be failed’
“Many of these children, and I fear many thousands of other vulnerable teenagers, have had very little structure to their lives over the last six months. School was often a stretch for them, and I am concerned we are never going to get some of them back into education. If we do not act now, this could result in a lost generation of teens – dropping out of school, going under the radar, getting into trouble, and at risk of being groomed by gangs and criminals.
“We need to identify these children quickly and do whatever it takes over the summer to stabilise their lives and get them prepared for the structure of school again. We must not look back in five years at a generation of vulnerable teenagers who fell out of society and ended up drifting into crime and unemployment. They need extra help now as we emerge from lockdown.”