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Vulnerable children 'heading for explosive situation' if health visitors not funded

Health visitors need to ‘collaborate with the community’ to help half a million children a Children’s Commissioner report has found to be living in vulnerable situations

Health visitors need to ‘collaborate with the community’ to help out a number of children equivalent to the population of Manchester that a Children’s Commissioner report has found to be living in vulnerable situations.

According to Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, there are 800,000 children aged 5-17 suffering from mental health disorders, 700,000 live with families that have ‘vulnerabilities’ and 1,200 have been identified as victims of modern slavery.

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The figures were described by Ms Longfield as the ‘tip of the iceberg’ as many children remain undiscovered due to the unavailability of data. Ms Longfield will be requesting data from local authorities and government departments over the next year in an attempt to fill in the gaps of her report.

She said: ‘It is shocking that half a million children – a number equivalent to the entire population of Manchester – need direct intervention or care from the state because they are living vulnerable lives.

‘Yet even more shocking is that this is only the tip of the iceberg. The actual numbers are likely to be much higher. The truth is nobody knows the exact number of vulnerable children.

‘What we do know is that even these numbers are unacceptably high. Our ambition as a nation should be for all our children to live happy and healthy lives. This report shows that millions are not doing so – and that has to change.’

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Dr Cheryll Adams, executive director for the Institute of Health Visiting (iHV), has called on health visiting nurses to work collaboratively with other community care providers, such as social workers, GPs and schools, to support vulnerable children.

She said: ‘It is important we are spotting these early signs of vulnerability – whether it is a child’s mental health, or the fact their parents are not or cannot provide the care they need – and work with the community to support and aid these children.

‘However, as authorities are continuing to cut the number of health visitors in areas, caseloads are getting larger and larger. When you have 600 children on your load and you have to travel a lot to work, you are going to miss big signs of vulnerability and no patients will really get the attention they deserve. It is leading to an explosive situation.

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‘Couple that with the fact local authorities set their agendas on health visiting independently and you are setting up some serious inequalities across the country – which will largely be to the disadvantage of poorer children. We are calling for an across-the-board standard for health visiting to keep this from happening.’

The Children’s Commissioner argued in her report that the government must do more to collect better data, and questioned how effectively the problems outlined in the report can be tackled if departments and agencies don’t know how many children are affected or cannot agree on how to define and therefore identify them.