Youth advice & counselling services “at sharp end” of supporting older teenagers in need of protection
Accessible voluntary sector model trusted by young people to provide effective long-term support
An analysis of data from the Right 2B Safe project – a two year Department for Education-funded project managed by Youth Access – shows that only a quarter of young people supported by local Youth Information, Advice and Counselling Services (YIACS) with issues ranging from sexual exploitation and abuse to domestic violence and self-harm were previously in touch with Social Services.
The project reached over a thousand young people, mainly aged 13 to 19, who were at risk of harm. Many were experiencing serious and multiple safeguarding issues. The most common problems self-reported by young people on initial presentation were self-harm, mental health problems, domestic violence and sexual exploitation. Many of the young people had also experienced emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse, as well as neglect and sexual violence. The project specifically identified young people who were assessed as at high risk due to caring responsibilities or homelessness.
Only a minority of young people were in touch with statutory Children’s Services before reaching a YIACS service. Interestingly, most of the young people (82%) were living in the family home at time of presentation, highlighting the extent of risks in the community. The project also found itself supporting many young people whose online behaviours were making them vulnerable to older males.
The YIACS offered flexible, ongoing support and therapeutic interventions that aren’t generally available through statutory safeguarding services – with impressive results. For example, 70% of those young people who reported self-harming at first contact reported a reduction in their self-harming behaviour as a result of the support they received.
Social workers, CAMHS staff and managers who were interviewed valued YIACS’ “forward thinking” and “grass roots knowledge” of young people and considered voluntary sector YIACS to be “at the sharp end” when it comes to protecting older teenagers, who are often not reached by statutory services. The project highlighted the need for closer working between the voluntary sector and statutory services.
Barbara Rayment, Director of Youth Access, says:
“The child protection system is failing to protect older teenagers. YIACS are seen by many vulnerable young people as trustworthy and accessible sources of support. Importantly, they offer open access non-stigmatising drop-in services to which young people can self-refer. They can also offer longer-term and more in-depth interventions and broker access to statutory safeguarding services when needed.
“YIACS have been recognised recently by the Children and Young People’s Mental Health & Wellbeing Taskforce as key services in the mental health field. The Right 2B Safe project has shown just how close the links are between mental health problems and safeguarding issues and the importance of responding to highly vulnerable young people through more integrated service models. YIACS should be viewed more consistently by Children’s Services as important partners – and funded appropriately.”