Teenagers are missing out on help because social workers view them as more resilient and able to cope with the effects of abuse, according to a report by The Children’s Society.
Social workers alo perceive this age group as more able to remove themselves from abusive situations than younger children, but these perceptions were not supported by young people who took part in the research, the report said.
“Many older children we work with are just as vulnerable as younger children, if not more so,” said Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of The Children’s Society. “It’s important that we review the way we support these young people and which approach works best for them once they have disclosed maltreatment.”
The impact of social workers’ misconceptions about this group means fewer teenagers are made the subjects of child protection plans and do not receive support, the report said. Official statistics for England in 2008-9 show that 8,700 young people aged 10 to 15 became the subject of child protection plans compared with just 430 young people aged 16 to 17.
The report found social workers’ initial perceptions of risk were affected by age and thresholds that varied across local authorities. Some professionals said thresholds were dictated by resource considerations, deterring them from making referrals for older children because they were less likely to be acted upon.
Thresholds on emotional abuse and neglect were unclear across all age groups.
In addition, social workers lacked the confidence to handle the complexities and uncertainties of referrals relating to sexual relationships between young people and older men. Fear of losing working relationships with young people and families, by making a child protection referral, was another factor.