Research type 
Year of report 

Summary of findings


The key points about vulnerable young people (VYP) which have emerged from these studies are as follows:

  • The overwhelming majority of VYP come from socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods and from families with multiple problems
  • The majority of VYP appear to be aware of drugs from an early age
  • They spend more time on the streets and are at greater risk of finding themselves in negative situations
  • They are at a much greater risk of finding themselves in other negative situations which increase their propensity to use drugs when, for example, they are taken into care, become homeless, are committed to a young offenders' institute or something similar.
  • The result of these various negative influences and experiences during childhood and early teens is that vulnerable young people are much more emotionally damaged than the average 11-18 year old in the general FRANK target audience and that they are, therefore, in need of special help and support.


A number of recommendations for specific support of this group were made:

  • Vulnerable young people need the type of face-to-face service and support which is being very well provided by NGOs. On the basis of this evidence, there is no need for FRANK to replicate these services because NGOs appear to be filling this role effectively in most areas of the country. FRANK's role should be to work with NGOs by providing referrals from its telephone and website services and producing appropriate resources for use by NGOs.
  • Although some existing FRANK resources are well-suited to general use by vulnerable young people there is a need for other more specialist resources which can be used interactively by support workers and which relate more closely to both the general and specific problems which vulnerable young people have experienced/are experiencing in their lives
  • The role which drugs play/may potentially play in their lives in helping to cause or overcome their general and specific problems.

Recommendations for the way forward to implement the research include:

  • FRANK should work with existing NGOs by providing referrals from its telephone and website services and producing appropriate resources for use by NGOs
  • It would be useful for FRANK drugs information resources to be provided which are aimed specifically at support workers, foster carers and others who are directly involved with VYP who are not specialist drugs workers but who nevertheless feel that it is important to be well-informed about drugs and their role in the lives of VYP
  • The research also suggests that there is a need for a comprehensive and engaging publication aimed at VYP and support workers in relation to use of cannabis since support workers (and some VYP themselves) are very concerned about the fact that cannabis is being used very freely by many young people who no longer perceive it to be 'a drug' or something which requires a degree of moderation or care. A particular concern of support workers is that VYP who are heavy users of cannabis are developing signs of paranoia which they feel are attributable to regular and unrestrained use of this drug.
  • The evidence that vulnerable young people often start experimenting with drugs at a much earlier age than other children suggests that a way needs to be found to identify these children and provide support before more serious problems develop (e.g. truanting, offending behaviour)
  • These findings also imply that services for vulnerable young people need to make more provision for after-care support (e.g. for young offenders, care leavers etc) well beyond the age of 18. NGOs are currently attempting to provide this service and, once again, it seems preferable for FRANK to adopt the role of supporting NGOs in this area rather than to attempt providing after-care services under the FRANK umbrella.
  • The few specialist resources which have been developed for vulnerable young people have been produced by a network of NGOs and local authority departments with the involvement of vulnerable young people themselves. In order to ensure that the tone and content of FRANK resources aimed at specific groups of VYP are found engaging, relevant and credible by the target audiences for whom they are developed, it is suggested that materials be pre-tested with these groups prior to widespread distribution.

The report recommends a number of resources, both for the young people themselves and for those supporting them. It also found that some NGOs found the cost of resources to be a problem and recommended that more resources should be provided for some NGOs

Research objectives


The report aims to summarise the main findings from the special studies with vulnerable young people (VYP) and recommends ways in which the research could feed into the Young People's National Delivery Plan.

The broad objectives of the six research projects were to conduct an in-depth investigation of the extent to which front line workers involved with each of the specific categories of vulnerable young people feel that FRANK:

  • Is currently providing comprehensive and appropriate support for their activities with these young people
  • Needs to provide some different/additional support in order to optimise the service they are offering
  • In what format any new resources should ideally be provided And also to explore with the young people themselves:
  • What type of drugs intervention they feel they need (and in what circumstances)
  • In what format they prefer to receive drugs information and what visual/graphic styles of publication appeal to them
  • Views of a current range of drugs resources from FRANK, HIT and Lifeline in terms of their impact, interest and potential usefulness.



FRANK was launched in late May 2003. FRANK is the Government's campaign which aims to provide drugs information and support services for young people aged 11-21 and their parents and carers. Prior to the launch of the campaign, a considerable amount of research was conducted with young people in the target age group and their parents and carers and also with local organisers and stakeholders in order to ensure that:

  • The campaign theme and the content and tone of its creative material was considered relevant and acceptable for the intended audience
  • The communications channels for the campaign were considered likely to be effective in delivering the campaign to key audiences.

Following research with the general public and stakeholders, a subsequent project was conducted specifically aimed at exploring the media consumption and information needs of several categories of Vulnerable Young People. This research was conducted qualitatively and involved 24 group discussions and a small number of depth interviews with the following categories of Vulnerable Young People (VYP):

  • Care leavers (15-18)
  • Young offenders (15-17)
  • Young people sexually exploited by prostitution (17-23)
  • Homeless young people (16-21)
  • School excludees/truants (12-17)
  • Children of problematic drugs users (12-18)
  • Refugees (English speaking) (16-21)

The findings of this research suggested that the majority of VYP are fairly similar to mainstream teenagers in terms of their patterns of media consumption and their information needs in relation to drugs. Some VYP, in fact, appeared to have better-than-average support from professional youth and drugs workers involved in a range of statutory and voluntary organisations such as Pupil Referral Units, Young Offenders services, Children's Homes, specialist agencies supporting the homeless, asylum seekers and refugees and the like. There were, however, some categories of VYP who appeared from the research to have a lifestyle which made it much less likely that the FRANK campaign would reach them. The two main groups in the research sample who seemed to have below-average exposure to many forms of media were the homeless, living primarily on the streets, and young people sexually exploited by prostitution, (many of whom are virtually homeless and also problematic drug users). After the launch of FRANK, feedback from some local organisers and stakeholders working with different types of VYP suggested that there might be a need for some specialist support materials and services to meet the unique requirements of young people in specific 'at risk' categories. The Home Office therefore decided to commission further research to look in more depth at the type of support required by front line workers and their clients in five specific sectors, with a view to ascertaining what additional resources/services FRANK should be providing for these groups:

  • Young offenders
  • Young people sexually exploited by prostitution
  • Young homeless
  • Looked-after children
  • Children of substance misusers

Separate qualitative research studies were conducted with each of the above categories of vulnerable young people between February 2003 and November 2004. The main findings from each of these studies are discussed in individual reports

Research participants


This study looked at vulnerable young people and their support workers. The young people were in five main groups:

  • Young offenders
  • Young people sexually exploited by prostitution
  • Young homeless
  • Looked-after children
  • Children of substance misusers

Audience Summary





Not specified



Aged 10-23

Social Class


Not specified


Data collection methodology

Depth interviews
Focus groups

Other data collection methodology


The research was conducted qualitatively and mainly involved face-to-face depth interviews with young people and support workers, although group discussions and paired depths were involved in some cases. The recruitment process for each of the six projects was lengthy and complex. All interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed. The two moderators analysed their own respondents' transcripts and also discussed their findings during the analysis process to cross-check and validate the results as they emerged

Sample size


After an initial study to identify the groups for more detailed in-depth study, 5 main studies were carried out with:

Young offenders:

  • 12 f-2-f with VYP
  • 26 f-2-f with support workers

Young people sexually exploited by prostitution:

  • 13 f-2-f with young women aged 16-23
  • 7 f-2-f with young men aged 17-24
  • 33 f-2-f with support workers

Looked after young people:

  • 25 f-2-f with VYP 11-18 (13 male, 12 female)
  • 25 f-2-f with support workers

Young homeless:

  • 30 f-2-f with VYP aged 16-21
  • 20 f-2-f with support workers

Children of problematic drug users:

  • 25 f-2-f with VYP aged 10-18
  • 20 f-2-f with support workers

Detailed region


Fieldwork was conducted in a very wide range of urban and rural locations throughout England including Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Hastings, Ipswich, Kidderminster, Lancaster, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Luton, Newcastle, Northampton, Norwich, Nottingham, Manchester, Portsmouth, Rochester, Rotherham, Rugby, Sheffield, Stoke-on-Trent, Swindon, Wakefield, Warrington and Wellingborough

Fieldwork dates


February 2003 – November 2004

Agree to publish





This report is classified as sensitive as it deals with vulnerable young people.

Research agency

Front Line

COI Number


Report format