MPs warn councils unwittingly acting as recruiting sergeants for drug gangs

Local authorities are unwittingly acting as “recruiting sergeants” for county lines drugs gangs by sending vulnerable children to live miles away from home, MPs have warned.

An inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults found that children were being placed in “grave danger” by the professionals who should protect them.

It heard evidence that thousands of children are being moved to children’s homes up to 100 miles from where they live – becoming isolated from friends, family and social workers – rather than being placed in their home local authority areas.

The “sent away generation” can become magnets for paedophiles and county lines gangs, while councils may inadvertently open new county lines by relocating those already groomed to sell heroin and crack cocaine, the inquiry found.

More than 70% of the 41 police forces who responded to the APPG’s inquiry said placing children out of area upped their risk of exploitation which could result in them being coerced into going missing.

Some children run back home or are enticed to run away by people seeking to exploit them, the MPs found.

The report pointed to Department for Education figures which suggested 64% of all children living in children’s homes in 2018 lived out of area – up from 46% in 2012.

Meanwhile the number of children reported missing from out of area placements has more than doubled since 2015 – from 990 to 1,990 in 2018, according to Government figures released in answer to a written parliamentary question.

Independent Group for Change MP Ann Coffey (pictured), chairwoman of the APPG, said: “It is a national scandal that local authorities are unwittingly becoming recruiting sergeants for county lines drugs gangs by sending so many children miles away. It must stop.

“Children are being systematically failed and placed in grave danger by the very professionals who are there to protect them.

“By placing so many children out of area, councils are complicit in adding to the trauma of already neglected and abused children.

“Our inquiry has shone a light into the shady twilight world of unregulated accommodation for children aged 16 and over, who become magnets for paedophiles and county lines drugs gangs. This accommodation must be regulated and inspected.”

Mark Russell, chief executive of the Children’s Society, said: “Our enquiry heard some truly shocking examples of the trauma and risk experienced by children placed out of area. It should be a wake-up call for urgent action at both the national and local level.

“These children are some of the most vulnerable in society, it is vital their needs are put at the centre of all decisions about their placement.

“No looked after child should be placed simply because that is where a bed is free, instead of that is where the child is most likely to receive the care, support and sense of belonging they deserve.

“We are calling on the Government to put in place an action plan and give councils more funding to ensure that there is a sufficient number of good quality, regulated and inspected care placements where children need them.

“Only then can we stop this epidemic of children being sent away, left feeling isolated and exposed to high risk.”

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