Ann Coffey MP: Thousands of “sent away” children in danger
The government has broken a promise to cut soaring numbers of children being “farmed out” to children’s homes vast distances from where they live, says Ann Coffey MP.
There is growing evidence that “a sent away generation” of vulnerable youngsters are in danger of falling prey to paedophiles and drugs gangs.
The government pledged to clampdown on “out of borough” placements five years ago but there has been a 64 per cent rise in the numbers being sent away between 2012 and 2017 from 2,250 to 3,680.
There has also been a huge increase in the number of sent-away children going missing with the number of missing incidents more than doubling to almost 10,000 a year.
There are strong links between children going missing and sexual exploitation as was seen in the scandals in Rotherham and Rochdale. The National Crime Agency has also reported that children groomed to sell Class A drugs in ‘County Lines’ operations are often listed as missing.
Figures from my area reveal that 53 per cent of children reported as missing from local children’s homes in Stockport in the month of April were classed as at risk of child sexual exploitation.
In 2012 our APPG for Missing Children conducted an inquiry into children missing from care which called for a reduction in the number of out of borough placements and revealed that children placed a long way from home were at greater risk of going missing and at a higher risk of physical and sexual abuse, criminality and homelessness.
Children gave evidence that they felt “dumped” away from home which increased their propensity to go missing.
In response to this evidence the government proposed a fundamental overall of children’s residential care to tackle system wide failings in 2013.
Ministers said they shared concern about the numbers of “out of sight, out of mind” children and announced a package of measures promising to reduce the number of out of borough placements.
Shockingly, despite this promise, the numbers have soared. They now account for 61 per cent of all children in children’s homes.
These sent-away children go missing at a faster rate and are targeted by paedophiles and criminals. I recently conducted a survey of police forces about ‘County Lines’ and obtained evidence that children in out of borough placements were particularly targeted by drugs gangs because they were seen as so vulnerable.
The incidence of children going missing from “out of borough” placements has in increased by 110 percent from 4,380 incidents in 2015 to 9,910 in 2017. A faster rate of increase than for those going missing from children’s homes within their own borough, which increased by 68 per cent.
There is no doubt that the private sector marketplace in social care is catastrophically failing children. It is also pushing up the prices charged to local authorities, with some homes now charging up to £5,000 a week per child. It also costs the police millions of pounds coping with missing episodes.
The high numbers of children in out of borough placements has been mainly caused by the fact that local authorities often have little choice about where to place children because of the uneven distribution of children’s homes around the country. 54 per cent of homes are in just three regions and nearly a quarter of all children’s homes are in the North West of England. This means local authorities have their hands tied about where children can be placed.
The farming out of children to areas where they have no friends or family or local social workers has created a perfect storm where it is increasingly difficult to protect children.
The system is working in the interests of the private providers but crucially not for the children themselves. It is not fit for purpose.
Ann Coffey is the Chair of the APPG for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults