The term ‘vulnerable children’ relates to children who are growing up with risks that could affect their wellbeing and ultimately life chances (Vulnerability Report 2018, Children’s Commissioner). They may be at risk of harm and face poorer outcomes unless they are offered support through early intervention. The risk factors are broad and often interrelated, so understanding and recognising when a child or young person is at risk relies upon a culture of professional curiosity across all services. It is also crucial that there are appropriate referral mechanisms in place and that these are understood by all.

The evidence is clear that children’s development and future life chances can be significantly affected by their early experiences. As a result of those experiences vulnerable children are at greater risk than their peers. They are more likely to be unemployed, to be socially isolated, to commit crimes, to have poorer mental health and wellbeing and to live in poverty.

Children and Young People Strategy 2019-22

Vulnerable Children Infographic
Estimating the number and proportion of children in County Durham exposed to any of the ‘toxic trio’ (domestic abuse, alcohol and substance misuse and mental health problems).

Based on Childhood Vulnerability in England 2019, Children’s Commissioner

In County Durham it is estimated that:

  • 46% of children live in households where an adult has any of the ‘toxic trio’ (experience of domestic abuse, alcohol/substance misuse problems or mental health problems).
    • That’s almost 46,500 children & young people,
  •  32% of children live in households where an adult has moderate or higher mental health ill-health symptoms. That’s around 32,000 children and young people,
  • Almost 26.5% of children live in households where an adult has ever experienced domestic abuse. That’s almost 26,500 children and young people.

Children’s Commissioner’s annual Vulnerability report

The Children’s Commissioner’s annual Vulnerability report (2019) estimated, for the first time,  local area prevalence rates of children in households experiencing combinations of the ‘toxic trio’. In keeping with previous research, the ‘toxic trio’ refers to children in a household where a parent has experienced combinations of:

  • Domestic abuse:
    • Broad measure: Children in households where an adult has ever experienced violence or abuse from a partner,
    • Narrow measure: Children in households where an adult has experienced violence or abuse from a partner in the last year.
  • Alcohol/substance misuse:
    • Broad measure: Children in households where an adult has reported engaging in substance misuse,
    • Narrow measure: Children in households where an adult has suffers from drug or alcohol dependence.
  • Mental health problems:
    • Broad measure: Children in households where an adult has some symptoms of a mental or psychiatric disorder,
    • Narrow measure: Children in households where an adult has a clinically diagnosable mental or psychiatric disorder Mental health problems.

What Makes a Young Person Vulnerable

A vulnerable young person may be a child or young person who:

  • is disabled and has specific additional needs,
  • has special educational needs,
  • is a young carer,
  • is showing signs of engaging in anti-social or criminal behaviour,
  • is in a family circumstance presenting challenges for the child, such as substance abuse, adult mental health problems and domestic abuse,
  • has returned home to their family from care,
  • is showing early signs of abuse and/or neglect,
  • is a Looked After Child (LAC),
  • is a young parent,
  • is at risk of/has experienced Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE),
  • is at risk of/has been a victim of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM),
  • is an asylum seeker, refugee or new migrant.

Factsheets relating to Vulnerable Children and Young People