Vulnerable young people in Sheffield – the work being done to help them

Sheffield Council is doing more to help the city's vulnerable young people
Sheffield Council is doing more to help the city's vulnerable young people

Vulnerable young people in Sheffield are struggling.

Children who have grown up in care or have difficult family situations face a much harder time going from their teenage years into adulthood.

A report by Sheffield Council says mental health issues, increased stress, anxiety and depression are often unsupported leaving many young people without help until they reach crisis levels.

They have poor attendance and progress in school with lowered attainment and a lack of opportunities for vocational or skills training, further hampered by the impact of entry level requirements for post 16 opportunities.

And these young people have poorer general and sexual health, an involvement with drugs and alcohol needing earlier intervention and risky behaviour leading to sexual exploitation

Young people Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEETS) are 50 per cent more likely to have a prescription for depression or anxiety than their peers.

And 18 per cent of young people in custody have special educational needs or disabilities, compared to three per cent of pupils overall.

Back in July, the council’s Cabinet agreed to review services involving vulnerable young people who struggle to make a successful transition from their teenage years into early adulthood. The Young People Services Review will consider how issues can be tackled much earlier and in a more coordinated way.

Led by Council Leader Julie Dore, it looks at the range of support delivered or commissioned by the council, the demand for services and how they can become more effective and streamlined.

“Young people’s needs are becoming more complex and more intertwined, needing a more joined up response,” say Sam Martin, head of commissioning  for vulnerable people at Sheffield Council, in a report.

“We know that many young people are at risk of multiple poor outcomes and that many bounce around services. We also know there are common risk factors which, if identified earlier, could allow us to intervene sooner before young people’s needs escalate and require more intensive, higher cost interventions.”

Sheffield Council, South Yorkshire Police and the NHS provide a range of services including community youth teams, housing and homelessness support, youth justice, care leavers support, drug and alcohol support, domestic and sexual abuse support, Child Sexual Exploitation, dedicated police officers in neighbourhood teams, mental health support, and employment, education, and skills support. Voluntary, community and charitable organisations also provide support.

But the report warns: “Pressure on these services continues to increase and significant government cuts have impacted on these services since 2010.

“Young people have told us that they want to be able to be supported by one worker, someone they trust, for the duration of their time receiving support, and have highlighted the importance of having a voice in shaping the services that support them.

“While services provide excellent support, delivered by a dedicated workforce, the way they are structured, commissioned and delivered does not reflect this complex nature of young people’s needs.

“There are some clear needs emerging: family breakdowns with increased impact of poverty and benefits changes leading to an increased need for supported accommodation.”

The full report to the Children, Young People and Family Support scrutiny committee can be viewed here: http://democracy.sheffield.gov.uk/documents/s32890/Young%20People%20Services%20Review.pdf

What the future holds for vulnerable young people?

Increasingly young people fall into multiple services when they need support.

More 16-year-olds are going into education, training or employment but there are significant concerns that these improvements may not be sustainable.

And although most young people secure a place at college, training or an apprenticeship, the numbers who subsequently drop out after Y12 is a worry. There are also concerns about the type of job opportunities available to young people and whether these provide a sustainable career.

Offending and reoffending rates have fallen broadly over the last five years but it is possible this gradual downward trend has halted.

There are also emerging concerns about violent crime and risks of gang involvement for young people.

Over the last 10 years there has been a significant reduction in teen pregnancies in Sheffield, which reflects a similar national pattern. However, there is still a big disparity in teen conception rates across different areas of the city.

School engagement remains a challenge although some improvements have been made in the last school year to exclusion rates.

Child Sexual Exploitation will be one of the focus points. Mr Martin said: “We have an increasing understanding of the ways in which teenagers can be drawn into exploitative and dangerous relationships through peer group activity and influences of adults outside the family.

“This emerging safeguarding is being implemented through our strategies to tackle sexual exploitation, supporting young people who go missing, or those at risk of peer abuse or getting drawn into gang activity.”

There is an annual budget of around £500,000 for Child Sexual Exploitation and 141 young people were referred to the CSE team in 2016/17.

The service works with children and young people experiencing or who are at risk of sexual exploitation, mainly aged 18 and under. A team of social workers, youth workers, police education officers and NHS nurses work at all levels from serious child protection to early prevention work.

What help should be available?

Young people get support from a wide range of services as they go through their teenage years, ranging from universal services which are available to everybody, through to very specialist services which are used by a small number of young people.

The report says: “The key concerns were increasing pressure on young people starting at earlier ages, increasing need for lower level mental health support especially for depression, anxiety disorders and self-harm, earlier engagement with illicit drugs and alcohol, earlier criminalisation of behaviour, poor educational experiences and progression opportunities, lack of basic life skills such as handling money or budgeting, cooking, personal hygiene and the responsibilities of everyday life

“Common work occurred across a wide range of providers in “softer skills” areas such as building personal skills, relationships and personal development, building self-esteem and resilience, emotional wellbeing.”

There needs to be closer links between the voluntary and community sector and statutory services about referrals and assessments. Transitions from children’s services to adult services need to be improved. One single service should ease the transition for children leaving care.

Young people should only be placed in their own flat when they are ready for it and know how to manage their tenancy, budget and have some life skills.

There needs to be better staff training, across council staff, providers and schools. And the age range for more intensive support should either start earlier, age eight to 11, or continue into the age of 25.

Services should be joined up to help homeless young people, care leavers, young offenders and young people at risk of gangs, sexual exploitation or drug and alcohol problems.

And there should be one initial assessment for each individual entering the service. Intensive in-depth support is more beneficial than occasional support over a period of time.