Local authorities and police forces are failing to identify the number of vulnerable children being exploited by criminal gangs, a new report has warned.
The report, published by Crest Advisory, found a growing number of looked after children are being placed in care settings which do not protect them from criminal exploitation.
Many are placed in unregulated settings or hundreds of miles from their home area due to shortage of suitable placements.
The report also found that looked after children are disproportionately represented in county lines networks, but they are not being systematically identified by police or local authorities
It also warned there is a ‘data desert’ around this issue as local authorities and police forces do not publish data on children exploited in county lines.
It states: ‘Maps plotting known county lines show a multiplicity of lines extending from urban bases to coastal towns and market towns all over the county. These maps echo the distribution of looked after children from urban local authorities, sent to children’s homes and unregulated accommodation often hundreds of miles from home.
’The relationship between the movement of vulnerable adolescents around the country in care placements and the spread of county lines is therefore a matter of significant interest.’
The report calls on local authorities to end the use of ‘unregulated care homes’ for looked after children and conduct thorough risk assessments prior to distant placements. It also wants the Government to create a legal definition of child criminal exploitation.