A committee chair has said she was ‘bitterly disappointed’ after new figures revealed the number of children being sent to live in children’s homes outside their own borough increased nearly 80% in four years.
Figures revealed by the Department of Education show there was a 78% increase nationally in children placed in children’s homes out of their borough from 2,250 in March 31, 2012 to 4,020 in March 31, 2016.
Ann Coffey, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Missing Children and Adults, said the latest figures were ‘bitterly disappointing’, particularly as they come four years after the Government said it would reduce the numbers.
She warned children placed in homes outside their local authority areas were ‘at high risk of going missing and coming to harm.’
‘These latest figures from the Department for Education are bitterly disappointing because the Government pledged to reduce out of borough placements four years ago,’ Ms Coffey said.
‘All the evidence shows that vulnerable children sent to live in placements outside their own local authority boundaries are at high risk of going missing and coming to harm.’
Ms Coffey, the author of a report on child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester entitled Real Voices – Are they being heard?, also said there were ‘strong proven links between going missing and child sexual exploitation.’
‘There are additional difficulties in keeping children safe when they are placed away from their local area. It is more challenging to support children with complicated needs who may have repeated missing episodes,’ she added.
The total number of looked after children increased from 67,050 in March 2012 to 70,440 in March 2016. During the same period the number of children placed in children’s homes increased from 5,930 to 7,600.
Responding to the figures, Sam Royston, director of policy and research at The Children’s Society, said: ‘Children in care are some of the most vulnerable in society and should only be placed outside of their home local authority area if it is necessary to keep them safe and well.
‘However we know that in many cases children are being placed far from their family and friends because there are not enough appropriate placements in their local area.
‘When children are placed in either residential care or foster placements some distance from home they are more likely to go missing from home with all the risks that brings – including child sexual abuse and other types of exploitation.’
Mr Royston urged councils to do ‘much more’ to ensure every placement is in the ‘best interests’ of the child and that they are well supported if they are moved away from their home area.
Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive at Action for Children, said: ‘While local authorities have a duty to place children in local placements which enable a child to maintain supportive relationships and encourage a feeling of safety, we do understand that this isn’t always possible if they are at risk of harm.
‘Placement decisions must be based on individual needs to ensure the most stable, loving environment is found to best cater for the emotional wellbeing of the child.’
‘Where children have to be placed out of area, information must be shared between agencies across local authority boundaries with thought given to how children can maintain existing links and nurture key relationships with those they care about at home,’ Sir Hawkhead continued.
‘With such a staggering national increase in children being placed in homes out of their area, Government must ensure more than ever, that this process is being carried out to meet the welfare and needs of each child.’