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TCS: Care system placing children in danger, parliamentary inquiry finds
Children who go missing from care are being systematically failed and placed in great danger by the very professionals who are there to protect them, according to a parliamentary inquiry report published today.
The report, by two influential All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs), calls for an independent investigation into children's homes in England and asserts that the system of residential care is 'not fit for purpose' for children who go missing.
The findings come in the wake of horrific cases of sexual exploitation, trafficking and other child abuse exposed in Rochdale and other parts of the country. The leader of Rochdale council has said that children should no longer be sent to care homes in his borough because their safety is not being guaranteed.
Today's report by the APPG for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults and the APPG for Looked After Children and Care Leavers, reveals that children in care are three times more likely to run away than children who live at home, often placing themselves in great danger of being physically or sexually abused or exploited.
Yet society – including many professionals – so often sees them as 'troublesome', a 'nuisance' and 'drain on resources' - rather than victims.
The main recommendations are:
A 'scorecard' should be introduced to measure a local authority’s performance in protecting vulnerable children who go missing from care.
Urgent action on 'out of borough placements', where children are sent to live hundreds of miles from home. Half of all children in children’s homes (46 percent) live outside their own local authority(iii), despite evidence that this is often a major factor in causing them to run away. One local authority placed every single child in its care outside its boundary.
Barriers, which stop the police from being informed of the names and addresses of children’s homes in their areas, must be overcome. Under the current system a sexual predator could be sitting in a car outside a children’s home, which the police do not know exists.
A completely new system of reporting incidents of children running from care, which combines data from both the police and local authorities. The discrepancy in data is startling, with estimated police figures for last year showing that there were 10,000 children going missing from care(iv) - but the Department for Education only recording 930 children missing(v).
Ofsted should not be allowed to give a 'good' inspection report to a home where there have been hundreds of missing incidents. More weighting should be given to the management of missing incidents in Ofsted’s inspections.
The inquiry also highlights a lack of training for professionals, an over-reliance on agency workers and poor quality placements in children’s homes. One practitioner told the inquiry: 'You can have someone looking after a young person, who the day before, their experience may have been working at a deli counter in ASDA'.