In Parliament, I held the government to account after a damning new report into the police’s approaches to child protection was released. It has found that a lack of proactive action by the police is leaving vulnerable children unidentified and unprotected.
The report came on the same day as a leaked Government report into the drug trade, which shows that children are falling into the grip of gangs at an unprecedented rate. Those are two sides of the same crisis that is reaching into every town and community across the country.
The Children’s Commissioner has been sounding the alarm for several years now. She found that 2.3 million children are living with risk because of their vulnerable backgrounds, and as many as 1.6 million of those children have patchy or no statutory support whatsoever.
Over £880 million has been lost from children’s and youth services since 2010. After a decade in which the safety net that vulnerable children rely on — Sure Start, family support services, speech and language therapy, behavioural support, social services and probation — has been picked away, it is becoming far too easy for the most vulnerable to be preyed upon by serious organised criminals.
Children living in care are not being properly protected. Schools are becoming too eager to expel and off roll. Pupil referral units are becoming recruiting grounds for vicious criminals. The total lack of both mental health and residential care beds has led to too many children being inappropriately detained or being ferried around the country in the backs of police cars. This is a whole-system failure, and the consequences for children and families are stark.
Since becoming Shadow Police and Crime Minister in 2017, I have continually pressed the government to properly invest in the support networks that stop vulnerable young people from falling prey to criminal gangs. Tragically, these calls have gone unanswered.
We know from Boris Johnson’s short time in Number 10 that he goes missing when things get tough and there are difficult questions to be answered. When it comes to protecting the most vulnerable children, we simply cannot afford for him to do so again.