ChildLine counsels more than 3,000 children in care

One in 26 looked after children contact ChildLine about failings and weaknesses in the care system, a new ChildLine report reveals today.

The report calls on local authorities to ensure fostered and other looked after children always have an adult to speak up for them when they need help. At present, children only have a right to an ‘advocate’ if they want to make a formal complaint about their care.

There were over 83,000 children in foster, residential or other forms of care in 2009, including 4,690 in Greater Manchester.

In all, 3,196 looked after children – some as young as five – contacted ChildLine over 2009-10 with problems about being in care. The local ChildLine base in Manchester  received 185 calls from children in care.  Many were suffering physical and sexual abuse and neglect and felt lost and helpless in the care system.

Some children were deeply unsettled and traumatised after being moved several times a year, some as many as 15 times while in care. Others complained of emotionally abusive or uncaring carers and being bullied by other children. Many looked after children had to be counselled about self-harming or running away. They talked about being ‘sick of life’ and wanting to ‘give up and die’.

Local authorities are looking after more children since the case of Baby Peter Connolly two years ago. Official figures show that the number of children who were taken into care in England grew from 60,900 in 2009 to 64,400 in 2010.  Applications to place children in care remain at unprecedented levels.1

Over the last five years, the number of ‘looked after children’ contacting ChildLine has increased by over 30 per cent from 2,415 to 3,196.

Christine Mellor, assistant director for ChildLine North West, said: “Most children in care are well looked after by dedicated carers and professionals. But a minority continue to be failed by the care system. When this happens, children need to know there is someone there to speak up for them who is independent from the local authority.

“Every day, looked after children talk to us about lives filled with pain and hurt. After the trauma they’ve been through, children need a special quality of care – at least as good as a good parent can offer.

“Instead, we hear from children who have been beaten or sexually assaulted while in care. Others feel abandoned in care or unloved by their new carers. Some are intimidated by other children. Many have reached crisis point.

“ChildLine highlighted the plight of these children in a report published 16 years ago and some of the same issues persist. These failings go back at least a generation.”

James, 12, told ChildLine: “I’ve been in and out of care all my life. I’ve been in various foster placements, but no-one wants me. I’m now living in a care home where there is lots of bullying. I get punched lots but the staff ignore it.”

14-year-old Sarah said: “I am in care because I was sexually abused by my step dad. My carer has hit me and touched me up. I’ve reported it but they are not taking my accusation seriously.”

Over the next year, the NSPCC will be testing and delivering a pioneering new advocacy service to help keep looked after children safe. The service will reach out initially to 600 children in foster and other forms of care in six areas across the UK.

The terms “children in care” and “looked after children” refer to all children being looked after by a local authority. This includes children in residential and foster care, young offender institutions, prisons, secure units and those accommodated in hostels.

There were 83,356 looked after children in the UK on the 31 March 2009 (DCSF, DHSSPS NI, StatsWales, The Scottish Government)

Over the past five years, the number of children counselled by ChildLine about being looked after has risen from 2,415 to 3,196 children – an increase of 32 per cent.

ChildLine is the UK’s free, 24-hour confidential helpline for children and young people who need to talk.  Trained counsellors are there to provide comfort, support and advice about ay problem that’s on their minds.  Contact them 24 hours a day, every day, by phone on 0800 1111 or at  Calls are free from all existing networks – landline and mobile.

The NSPCC is the UK’s leading children’s charity specialising in child protection. Our vision is to end cruelty to children in the UK and we make a difference for all children by standing up for their rights, listening to them, helping them when they need us and by making them safe. The NSPCC runs projects and services across the United Kingdom and Channel Islands, including ChildLine and the NSPCC Helpline for adults concerned about the safety of a child.