Government dismisses '20-mile rule' for children's home placements

By Neil Puffett

| 17 June 2014

The government has rejected calls for it to consider prohibiting local authorities from placing children in residential care more than 20 miles from home.

Nearly half of children in residential care are placed outside their home authority. Picture: Morguefile

Responding to a report by the education select committee into ongoing reforms of residential care, the government said the introduction of a new rule is not necessary because other work is taking place to address the issue of so-called “out-of-area” placements.

“While the government understands the committee’s concerns, we do not believe that conducting a separate study on the implications of a 20-mile radius cap, in isolation from other factors, would help to resolve the core issues affecting the quality of local authority placement commissioning and social work support,” the government response states.

The government claims the law is already clear that a child should be placed within their local area when it is in their best interests, and that regulations have been changed so that directors of children’s services must approve long-distance placements.

“To address issues of sufficient local provision, we are encouraging bids through the Innovation Programme to establish different models of local commissioning to expand access to provision,” the response adds.

Alan Wood, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS), said members are pleased the government has rejected an outright ban on placing children more than 20 miles away from home.

"A blanket ban on out-of-area placements would not provide the radical shift in thinking needed to improve outcomes for some of our most vulnerable children," he said.

"In some cases out-of-area placements are used effectively and what is vital is that every child has a placement decision made in their best interests.

"Professionals must be able to make decisions on a case by case basis, taking into account the needs of a child and the features of the provision that they are going to, as well as the young person's wishes and feelings."

He added that the ADCS is making the case for re-thinking the way that residential care is commissioned and used so it is focused on achieving the best possible outcomes.

The issue of out-of-area placements has come into sharp focus recently due to concerns that young people are being put at risk when they are placed far from home.

Last year Education Secretary Michael Gove said children being "decanted" away from friends and family was a contributing factor to instances of child sexual exploitation by gangs.

But despite concerns, the most recent government statistics on children’s homes shows that use of out-of-area placements are on the rise.

As of 31 March 2013, 48 per cent of children in residential care (2,371 children) were placed outside their home authority. This compares with 46 per cent of children (2,249) in residential care being placed outside their home authority as of 31 March 2012.

The government also dismissed the education committee’s call for it to develop a national strategy for care provision, stating that it is the government’s role to “create the conditions in which quality provision – residential or otherwise – will thrive”.

However the government did accept a recommendation for better training and development of children’s residential care staff to create a culture that promotes safety and says it has begun work to develop proposals.

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