Children in care left ‘isolated’ with more than 800 moved from England to Scotland or Wales

Hundreds of children in care have been left “isolated” after being moved so far away from their home that they are in a different nation of the UK, Parliament heard.

More than 800 children under the care of local authorities in England were moved to Scotland or Wales in 2022, a report by the charity Become has revealed.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie, a Labour shadow education minister, highlighted the negative effects felt by those children sent so far away.

He told the House of Lords: “The Become report highlights some of the effects on children on being moved away from home, the effects such as isolation and stigma.

“The Government’s children’s social care strategy emphasises, rightly, the need to put strong, loving relationships at the heart of being a child in care.

“How does that square with the inevitable negative effects of children being sent far away from home on the relationships that matter most to them – their family and friends?”

Social worker Lord Laming emphasised the importance of “retaining some stability in the lives of these children”.

The independent crossbench peer said: “Things that are familiar are all the more important for children who have the least, and these children have very disturbed upbringings.

“These numbers are disturbing to say the least, and why it is understandable that children might be sent to a specialist facility that is better placed to meet their needs, sending them to Scotland does not fit into that arrangement, it seems to me.

“The time has come to put pressure upon local authorities to provide proper provision in their area. They have parental responsibility for these children and this must be done and it must be done quickly.”

Former Plaid Cymru leader Lord Wigley added that, in 2022, “several dozen” children from Wales with critical needs were sent to England for their care.

Retired top judge and independent crossbench peer Baroness Butler-Sloss highlighted the “urgency” of the problem, due to that “trauma” that many looked after children have already experienced in their lives.

Education minister Baroness Barran said that, through the Government’s strategy for children’s social care entitled ‘Stable homes, built on love’, they are driving forward improvements to reduce out-of-area placements.

She said: “The Government recognises the importance of most looked after children being placed near to their homes.

“Local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure there is sufficient provision for those children within their boundary.

“We are aware that, particularly in more complex cases, an increasing number of children are being placed over 20 miles from their home.”

She added: “We are investing in a number of major initiatives. Firstly, £259 million supporting local authorities, the capital funding to expand both open and secure children’s homes and, crucially, £27 million over the next two years to deliver a fostering recruitment and retention programme so that children can live close to their roots…

“It’s not just about pressure [on local authorities], it’s about reforming the way that we approach provision and we’re doing that through the foster care strategy, through the support we’re giving to kinship carers, but also crucially through the establishment of regional care cooperatives, which will really change the way that we commission and deliver these placements in future.”

She added that the number of children going to Scotland are “happily very small in number”.

Lord Alton of Liverpool, governor of children’s charity Coram’s, said that he viewed 800 children being sent to Scotland and Wales as “rather a lot”, and argued that sending a child so far away is “roughly double the cost” of housing them nearer to home.

The minister said: “I believe that a number of the most distant placements are for every specialist provision and I appreciate there can be some additional costs, but overall those residential care placements are broadly similar in cost when looking at both looking at local authority and private and voluntary provision.”

She added that there are also other exceptional cases included in those numbers, for example “children who are gang-involved who need to be moved further away from home for their safety”.

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