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Child Vulnerability: what will make a difference?

In March, Catch22 provided a video response to the Lord's Public Service Committee inquiry into the role public services in addressing childhood vulnerability. Here, you can watch our video submission, or read a transcript of our response.

07 June 2021

Read the full transcript below, or click the links to jump to our answer on a specific question.

Catch22 is a charity and social business. Our 1,500 staff working across the country are driven by the Catch22 belief that everyone can thrive if they have, what we call, the 3Ps: a purpose in life, a place to live and good people around them.


Child vulnerability – what will make a difference?

  • Language matters – the narrative that comes from government and the media is important in inspiring trust and confidence in the population at large about accessing statutory and voluntary services.
  • Community knowledge and strong relationships are key.
  • Positive relationships are at the core of supporting children.
  • Prevention and early intervention needs to be prioritised as a long-term strategy and funded sustainably.


How should childhood vulnerability be defined?

 “All children are vulnerable if they are walking down a dark alley at night, the real question is what leads them to walk down that dark alley at night.”

All children are vulnerable as they are reliant on being cared for, but not all children will be exposed to risk which preys on their vulnerability.

Currently, too much focus is placed on the child and not enough on the risks or the trauma that a child might face.

Extra-familial risk is always present – online, in a peer group, at school, in the community – but the most dangerous combination is familial risk, such as domestic abuse, impaired child development, substance abuse or criminal involvement of family members, which in turn makes a child most likely to be susceptible to external risk factors.

This makes them far more likely to be at risk of poor outcomes – substance misuse themselves, offending behaviours, joblessness, or being groomed into exploitation or having violent relationships.

So if we start from the premise that every child is vulnerable, a recognition of risk factors as well as trauma, and prevention and early intervention is vital.


How well do Public Services address the underlying causes of child vulnerability within families?

“How would you want your own child to be helped – by multiple people who cut you out of the picture? Or in partnership with you as the child’s parent or guardian?”

Statutory public services sometimes have difficulty engaging children and their families because of the badge, and the perception that they do not trust the parents or guardians to safeguard effectively.

The voluntary sector is much more likely to be able to engage and understand what is happening with that family and child’s life. They are often far more embedded in the community and are able to take the time to build whole-family, strong and trusting relationships.

This is also why there is huge value in peer mentoring programmes and schemes, which encourage families to engage.


How can central government and the voluntary sector work together more effectively to support vulnerable children and their families?

“Voluntary services aren’t always seen as part of the local authority team – they’re often housed in different buildings and viewed as part of a contractual obligation to deliver – but without the collaborative focus.”

Genuine collaboration is made difficult by procurement services and commissioning arrangements.

The most effective public services are the ones that are truly integrated and use a trauma-informed approach. They are based on a combination of the community knowledge, skills and experience of voluntary sector organisations with the expertise of local authorities. The partnership is one of trust. At Catch22, we’ve experienced this first-hand.

There is often an assumption that the voluntary sector know the community well, but the expertise of our practitioners can go unrecognised. For example, in our Pan Merseyside Child Exploitation and Missing Service, our Service Manager is a fully integrated member of the local Safeguarding Children’s Partnership. This is regularly held up as a best practice example of voluntary sector and local authority partnership working.

The Government should also consider the impact of volunteers in the delivery of statutory services. There are some brilliant examples of how much of an impact volunteers can have in creating a truly place-based approach because of the value they bring to community identity – through language, culture or simply knowledge of local people.

To be most effective, volunteer management needs to be built into commissioning contracts.


Do vulnerable children and families receive sufficient support from early intervention and preventative services?

“The same things will continue to happen over and over again if early intervention isn’t prioritised.”

It’s well known that there is there is too little focus on prevention and early intervention. This is partly because it is extremely difficult to evidence what has been prevented, but also because resources are limited and are inevitably used on crisis intervention, as it isn’t possible to cut this.

We are sometimes frustrated that we are commissioned to intervene only when issues have already occurred.

Difficulties also arise when multiple services are involved with one family or child – having one trusted point of contact who can refer to other agencies is proven to be most effective.

Circle with "The Family" written in the middle. Around the circle, there is a larger circle split into three - social worker, team of family workers, and volunteer peer mentors and family role models. To the left, there are three results highlighted: 1) reduced numbers of escalations to child protection; 2) social worker time and LA resources used more effectively; 3) reduced number of repeat referrals to Child in Need status

In 2016 the Department for Education’s Innovation Unit commissioned Catch22 to deliver a successful service modelled on this approach – called FACT22.

There are too few culturally sensitive services, meaning that there are communities within the UK who can’t access support offered or find it conflicts with certain cultural traditions and practices, or where language is a barrier.

We need a long-term strategy which tackles the underlying, deeply embedded issues. What we’re currently seeing is a ‘trends’ based approach, which attempts to tackle one major issue at a time, such as County Lines.

“It isn’t policies or protocols or paperwork that keep a child safe – it’s people. A child is vulnerable when they are isolated for whatever reason. A child with other people standing alongside is protected.”


What approach does Catch22 take to combatting the risks that exacerbate child vulnerability?

Catch22 takes a solution-based approach to combatting the risks that exacerbate child vulnerability. Our solutions focus on:


Catch22 delivers quality alternative provision education across 12 schools that focuses on building trusted relationships and re-integration into mainstream settings, or transition onto further education or employment. All our learners achieve positive outcomes, thrive and enjoy a quality education:

    • 83% of our learners achieved a GCSE in English
    • 85% of leavers across our schools went on to a positive destination
    • 83% of our learned achieved a GCSE in Maths
    • 80% of our learners have special educational needs
    • 54% of our learners receive free school meals

Find out more in our Education Annual Review (2019-20)

That education is delivered by skilled, passionate people with high expectations in a place that is safe and appropriate.

By intervening early, there is a greater chance of preventing many of the risk factors which prey on childhood vulnerability.



Ripplez is part of Catch22 and delivers the Pause service across Derbyshire. Pause works successfully with women who have experienced, or are at risk of, repeat pregnancies which result in children needing to be removed from their care. Through our work we aim to reduce the number of children being taken into care. Pause works together with local authorities and other agencies.

Learn more about how Pause makes a difference

The service aims to break transgenerational cycles and support vulnerable women to develop a sense of self-worth with significant improvements to substance abuse, domestic violence and mental health, as well as improving contact with children and gaining access to services.


Early intervention and integrated working

Catch22 works to deliver a truly collaborative ‘Risk and Resilience’ early intervention model.

Our experience tells us that where child exploitation and missing from home services are commissioned together, they are more effective at identifying and managing risk as well as being more economically viable.

Download our Risk and Resilience Model booklet

We work with a range of partner agencies including the police and children’s social care to reduce the risk of child exploitation and prevent further missing episodes.

We have services based within Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs to respond quickly to children’s needs and work in a truly integrated way. Our key workers build holistic and trusting relationships through individual and therapeutic support, group activities, and signposting to other services. We work successfully across Merseyside, the West Midlands, Merton, Stoke and Staffordshire and Derbyshire, helping some of the most vulnerable children to get their lives back on track.


Thrive Online

The online world presents huge opportunities for finding purpose, connection, and community, which is why tackling digital exclusion is an important part of Catch22’s work – in terms of both digital skills and access. We know that digital connectivity is essential for our lives and it must be seen as a right and not a luxury for all.

But, the online world also presents significant risks; it is a fast-moving space and the risks of online grooming and exposure to violence and trauma for children and young people are rapidly growing.

At Catch22, we are conducting in-depth academic research on the harms we know are experienced online by young people, especially the most vulnerable, and what can be done to effectively tackle these issues. This research will be published in June 2021.

Our combined approach will help children and young people to be protected from risk, and to thrive in an increasingly digital world.


Positive destinations

Vulnerable children and young people need genuine alternatives to change the direction of their lives. We deliver a preventative, future-thinking approach for children and young people who are marginalised and at risk – focusing on education, employability and peer support.

We address the basic skills needs of young people disengaged from education and employment – from CV writing to interview techniques – and have programmes specifically focused on particular areas, such as digital skills.

We deliver a preventative, future-thinking approach:

    • 378 learners in our colleges
    • 1,000 qualifications delivered
    • 1,324 people enrolled with our employability services
    • 523 clients into paid employment
    • 88% of clients felt that they received sound advice to support them towards their career goals
    • 100% commissioners satisfied with the service

Find out more in our Employability and Skills Annual Review (2019-20)

We know how important trusted relationships are, and therefore make sure all candidates have a trusted employment coach to support them. We also support the businesses themselves when they take on our candidates to make sure there are positive outcomes on both sides. Our programmes are proven to help people progress into apprenticeships, traineeships or other employment – whatever their barriers might be.