More children at risk of exploitation in out-of-area care placements, Labour MP warns

Moving children into out-of-area placements away from their local authorities has left more children at risk of exploitation, a Labour MP has said.

Labour’s Marie Rimmer (St Helens South and Whiston) said that children are “going into unregulated placements without the support that they need” under the Government’s legislation.

Responding in the Commons, Education Minister Michelle Donelan said that moving a child out of their area is “a last resort unless it is in the child’s best interest”, but admitted that “the number of children in the care sector is a worry”.

Ms Rimmer (pictured) accused Ms Donelan of “not understanding the increasing use and the reasons for the increasing use of out of area placements”.

“It’s lack of resources to meet the needs, and they’re going into unregulated and un-Ofsted registered out-of-area placements without the support that they need.

“It’s also because there isn’t the availability of places within the areas, it’s a massive problem, it’s a massive problem,” she said.

Ms Rimmer added that the moving of children into out-of-area placements outside of their local authorities “has left more children at risk of exploitation”.

Ms Donelan said that a child’s best interest “should always come first” and that “safety and suitability of a child’s care placement is our priority”.

She added that the Government do take the matter “very seriously”, but that out-of-area placements “can actually be in the child’s best interest if they are at risk of exploitation or if they need specialist provision”.

She said: “Sometimes it is in the best interest of the child to be placed out of the area and the important thing is that we have a child-centred policy which is always placing their best interests first.

“They could be at risk of sexual exploitation, gangs or need very specialist provision.”

When pointed out by Tory MP Andrew Bridgen that there are “nearly 80,000 children in care in England alone”, Ms Donelan replied: “The number of children in the care sector is a worry both to myself and the Government, and that’s why we have a number of initiatives to support families to stay together.”

Ms Donelan said that the care review “will take a look at the entire system”.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner then pushed the Government on when the review of the care system will begin and what will be included.

Ms Donelan said the Government is “committed to ensuring that we get this right”.

“It will be comprehensive but at the moment I’m working on the scope and setting it up. I think that the important thing is ensuring that it delivers for all children within the system and from preventing more from becoming part of the system,” she told MPs.

Discussing the Operation Augusta investigation into child grooming in Manchester, Ms Rayner said: “We must learn the lessons from these terrible events and we must make sure they must never happen again.”

A report into Operation Augusta last week found that police and social workers investigating child sex exploitation in Manchester knew children were suffering “the most profound abuse… but did not protect them”.

Asked what the Government is doing in the wake of these revelations and what support is being offered to victims and survivors, Ms Donelan replied: “The great tragedy and announcements that have come out of Greater Manchester is awful and my heartfelt thoughts go to anybody affected and their friends and family.

“Things have moved on since then, as Ms Rayner pointed out, this is over 10 years ago. Since then the most important reform we’ve made is linking up multi-agencies – so that includes health, police and local authorities – so that we can have a combined approach in order to deal with these issues.”

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