I could argue that the University’s findings on child protection tell us what we already know: abused children are still going unnoticed, there are not enough resources to protect them and that there will always be those who fall through the cracks. It all looks rather bleak, especially now, when the government is making cuts all round.
Yet, what it tells us to focus on is not the normal image of a small, innocent, child which the national media will instantly draw us to. No, those more at risk from having their maltreatment go undetected are typically teenagers aged 11-17.
When one in five Serious Case Reviews – where maltreatment leads to serious injury or death – involve young people aged 11 and upwards, then suggesting that this age bracket doesn’t need attention as they are “resilient” is simply not enough.
Worryingly, US research has showed that adolescent maltreatment had a “stronger and more prevalent effect on later adjustment” than it did in younger children. Child Protection Professionals argue that the frameworks in place prevent them from referring more young people to agencies. Often they assess that the child will suffer more through strained family relations if the referral is not responded to, than if an appropriate response was taken.
Despite financial and staffing issues, something can be done. Traditional protection frameworks don’t always work for older children whose abuse is more likely to take place outside the home, as the consequence of their growing independence. A child aged 11-17 is more likely to confide in their friends.
Older children need clarification about who to contact when suffering abuse. Even the NSPCC uses younger children in a lot of their adverts, so the message for older children might be misconstrued. An idea could be, perhaps, links on social networking sites? Some have already introduced a button for users to press to report anyone who they suspect is an online predator, as year by year the average age for the use of sites like Facebook gets younger.
When is a child still a child? Different laws and regulations state different ages for different schemes leaving those aged 15 plus at risk. Think of it like this: you can’t vote until you reach the age of 18, but you are no longer a child on public transport after 14. You can join the army at 16, and you can drive a car when you are 17. At what age are you an adult? A universally applicable age needs to be agreed.