Better joined up working needed between treatment and child sexual abuse services

Around six per cent of young people seeking alcohol or drug treatment report having been the victims of sexual exploitation, according to a PHE-commissioned review of young people’s treatment services by the Children’s Society. The figure is far higher among girls, at 14 per cent, than boys, at 1 per cent.

A quarter of females starting treatment in 2015-16 reported having mental health problems, along with 15 per cent of males, while 33 per cent of females and 9 per cent of males reported having self-harmed. The review stresses that these ‘multiple vulnerabilities and complex needs’ need to be properly addressed, while ‘young people becoming young adults need to be supported as they move into adult services through appropriate transitional arrangements’.

Meanwhile, annual figures from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) show that the number of young people seeking help for substance issues has fallen to 17,000 since its peak of 24,000 just under a decade ago, with cannabis and alcohol remaining the main reasons young people needed support. While the drop in numbers was encouraging, it was important to ‘look behind the headline’ and remember that young people did not develop substance problems in isolation, said PHE’s director of alcohol, drugs and tobacco, Rosanna O’Connor.

‘For some young people these wider issues may be the cause of their substance misuse problems, and for others, a consequence,’ she said. ‘So it is vitally important that young people’s treatment services are working closely with a wide range of other children and young people’s health and social care services, to ensure that vulnerable young people have all their needs supported.’

The Children’s Society review is based partly on interviews with commissioners, service managers, alcohol and drug leads and young people in treatment, but is not ‘exhaustive’, the document acknowledges. However, the majority of professionals consulted reported that they ‘are seeing more young people with multiple vulnerabilities and complex needs in specialist substance misuse services, including mental health, child sexual exploitation and abuse, domestic abuse, and poor sexual health’.

Partnerships with child sexual exploitation and abuse support services, youth offending teams and sexual health services need to be established and developed, the document stresses, while commissioners also need to recognise that young people’s changing needs require a multi-agency approach with clear roles, accountability and lines of communication. Young people’s treatment services also need to be able to respond appropriately to child sexual exploitation and ‘offer structured identification and assessment of risk’, it says.

The picture revealed by the service review was ‘one of a mixed landscape of provision across England’, both in terms of service delivery and commissioning approaches, with increased local autonomy leading to ‘significant differences’ in provision – fully integrated with other young people’s services in some places, but evolving in a more ‘piecemeal’ fashion in others. There was also evidence of funding reductions, it states.


Specialist substance misuse services for young people: a rapid mixed methods evidence review of current provision and main principles for commissioning, and Young people’s statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS): financial year ending March 2016 at