‘Vulnerable’ Does Not Mean ‘at Risk of Harm’

13 May 2020

Since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, we have heard people who are more likely to be ‘at risk’ by the pandemic being described by the Government as ‘vulnerable’ but what does this actually mean?

Since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, we have heard people who are more likely to be ‘at risk’ by the pandemic being described by the Government as ‘vulnerable’.

However, as the word has been applied to many different groups of people there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about who is deemed to be ‘vulnerable’ and what it actually means.

Special Needs Jungle have written an article explaining what vulnerable means in a medical need context and what it means in relation to an education or social need.

The Government guidance sets out those who are considered ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ and includes those with specific cancers, solid organ transplant recipients, severe respiratory conditions, rare diseases that significantly increase the risk of infections, people on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase the risk of infection and women who are pregnant with significant heart disease.

In relation to education, it is important to know whether a child is ‘vulnerable’ as if so they can continue to access education settings during the pandemic. However, the Government’s guidance ‘Supporting vulnerable children and young people during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak’ groups together children with vastly different needs under the heading ‘vulnerable’. Included under this heading are those children with a ‘child in need’ plan, a child protection plan or who are a looked- after child.  It is a common misconception that a ‘child in need’ plan is a step down from a child protection plan and wrongly implies that children with these plans are vulnerable because they are ‘at risk’ through neglect or abuse. Special Needs Jungle explains how this leaves us with “a system that means that any child who is referred as ‘in need’ of any support from social care, has to be risk assessed using the same safeguarding framework. This is regardless of whether they are a disabled child who needs access to additional services, or a child where there is, in fact, evidence of abuse.”

You can read more about this issue in Special Needs Jungle’s article here: https://www.specialneedsjungle.com/it-is-a-mistake-to-assume-all-vulnerable-children-are-at-risk-of-harm/

2 thoughts on “‘Vulnerable’ Does Not Mean ‘at Risk of Harm’”

  1. The gradual erosion of distinction surrounding the terms used to define children and families ‘in need’, means all families who require ANY sort of service for their child from their Local Authority (LA) are classed as “In need”.

    The wide range of legal terms “in need” covers include: ‘disabled’, ‘at risk’, ‘vulnerable’, ‘looked after’ and ‘abused’.

    Sadly, this has blurred the publics perception of what “in need’ means, now moving it much closer to ‘abuse‘.

    Today, any family having a child or children for whom they require a service from their LA is tainted with the whiff of ‘abuse’, whether that ‘need’ arose because of the most heinous form of sexual or physical ‘abuse’ to a disabled facilities grant to adapt a home, to providing security checked child-minders to help with or babysit a physically or mentally ‘disabled’ child… and everything in between!

    Apart from the stigma of ‘abuse’ with which ‘in need’ now tares all parents – no matter how good or bad they actually are – it is unhelpful in so many ways.

    With no clear distinction between the types of ‘need’ a child has, no clear measure of which service is required by whom or what degree resourcing is need. Clearly, that hampers effective management.

    Likewise, LAs are obliged to carry out intrusive, exhaustive and unnecessary inquiries – no matter how minor the need.

    Add to that the fact all LAs are obliged to protect the Public Purse and in so doing use ‘the law’ in a Cummings-esque way, making it both legal and financially intimidating for many parents, putting them off seeking the services at the lower end of the scale that may in turn prevent much more intensive support services later at the other end of the scale.

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