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30 June 2015

Calls for new law to support teenagers as one third too stressed to sleep

Calls for new law to support teenagers as one third too stressed to sleep

More than a third of teenagers have been too stressed to sleep, according to new research by The Children's Society.

The findings, which reveal 16 and 17 year olds are battling anxiety and feeling judged by society, has led the charity to launch a campaign calling for urgent action to protect the most vulnerable teenagers.

Seriously Awkward, launched on Friday, sheds light on what's being called the 'worried generation'.

In the survey, 34 per cent of the age group questioned reported being so anxious that they have suffered sleepless night in the last year.

One in four say they do not feel optimistic about the future.

The report, based on an Opinium poll of over 1,000 16 and 17 year olds across the UK, show two in three said they felt judged simply for being a teenager.

And the concern is mirrored among parents, with seven in 10 parents agreeing that life is tougher for teenagers now than it was for them.

The Children's Society's Seriously Awkward campaign highlights the challenges that these teenagers face. The charity said: "They are more likely to go missing or be a victim of violent crime than any other age group and they are at a high risk of sexual exploitation and domestic violence. 

"Yet they are being systematically let down by the law and don't get the same basic safeguards as younger children. For instance, while laws exist to protect 16 and 17 year olds against specific incidents such as assault or sexual offences, there is no catch-all law to protect them from sustained child cruelty and neglect in the same way as there is for younger children."

The charity is lobbying for a change in the law to protect children aged 16 and 17 from abuse and neglect, and to ensure that support services, such as mental health services, always treat them as children and offer them support when they need it.

The Children's Society estimates that half a million 16 and 17 year olds face particular risk of harm because they are already dealing with multiple issues such as poverty, poor health or a lack of supportive relationships.

And almost half of those questioned that are asking their council for help with homelessness are turned away without being assessed for support.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children's Society, says: "This research reveals that a generation of teenagers are being let down by society. Many are struggling with a range of issues but are dismissed as resilient enough to cope, and denied the same legal protection and services as younger children." 

The report calls for:

1.Better legal protection for 16 and 17 year olds

The new government should rectify and streamline the legislative framework which currently fails to protect the most vulnerable older teenagers, by conducting a full review of relevant legislation and ensuring that vulnerable 16-17 year olds are fully protected from risk of harm and exploitation.

In particular, the government should:

  • Raise the age of a victim of child cruelty and neglect from 16 to 18, so 16 and 17 year olds living at home have the same protection as younger children.
  • Amend housing laws to ensure that 16 and-17 year olds at risk of homelessness can never be evicted from their accommodation and become 'intentionally homeless'.
  • Raise the age for Child Abduction Warning Notices from 16 to 18, to ensure that the police can intervene where vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds are targeted by predatory adults for the purposes of exploitation, either of a sexual or criminal nature.

2.Increased and more flexible service provision for vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds

The government should change the law to recognise the specific vulnerabilities faced by older teenagers and create a new status specifically for vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds, which would entitle them to additional and flexible support during these late childhood years and post-18, to ensure that they are not abandoned when they are most at risk.

3.Greater involvement and participation in decisions that affect their lives

The government and local authorities should ensure vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds have a right to advocacy, so they are supported to make fully informed decisions.