Children in care treated like ‘pass the parcel’ with many housed far away from home
Vulnerable children in care are being treated like “pass the parcel” and housed far away from the areas they consider home, a report has warned.
Some 30,000 children in care in England – around four in 10 – are living “out of area”, including around 2,000 living 100 miles or more away from their home postcode, according to a report by England’s Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield.
It shows the number of minors housed away from their local area has risen by 13% over the past four years, meaning a growing number of vulnerable children are isolated from family and friend support networks and at higher risk of going missing.
A rise in numbers of older children in care has also left cash-strapped councils without enough suitable places locally, meaning many end up in privately run children’s homes in cheaper areas and without the family structure of a foster place, it adds.
Ms Longfield said: “For most of us, Christmas is a time to spend with family and friends, yet many children in care are living many miles away from the place they call home because councils have nowhere suitable for them to live.
“Some children in care have told me they feel like parcels – passed from pillar to post, unsure where they even are on a map.
“We wouldn’t want this for our own children, and we shouldn’t accept it either for those children who rely on the state to look after them.”
The report – called Pass the Parcel – said the three local authorities sending the most children out of their areas were London boroughs: Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Tower Hamlets.
It acknowledges some children need to be moved out of their area owing to the risk of violence, sexual predators or of being groomed by gangs, but said it is often a lack of suitable council places.
Mark Russell, chief executive of the Children’s Society, added: “Children in care are being hugely let down.
“It is simply not good enough that so many of these vulnerable children are being placed because that is where a bed is free and not because 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.”
Ms Longfield is calling for an independent and broad review into the children’s social care system, in particular looking at their emotional and safety needs.
She added: “The present system does provide love and support to thousands of children, but there are also many others who are living very vulnerable lives, many miles away from anyone they know. We have to make the state a better parent for these children.”
A Government spokesman said: “The safety and suitability of a child’s placement in care is our absolute priority, and moving a child away from home is always a last resort.
“Placements are signed off by directors of children’s services, and Ofsted will rightly challenge decisions if they believe poor decisions are being made.
“We know there are challenges in finding the right placements, and we’ve already pledged an extra £1.5 billion for child and adult social services, as well as a review of the system so children receive the best possible care.”
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