Major rise in number of children in 'out-of-area' residential care

By Joe Lepper

| 08 May 2018

The number of looked-after children placed in residential care outside of their local area has increased by nearly two thirds over the last five years, figures obtained from the government have shown.

Labour MP Ann Coffey said she is concerned is that children are being placed in children's homes out of their local area because there is no choice in provision. Picture: UK Parliament

Department for Education figures obtained by Labour MP for Stockport Ann Coffey show that the number of children placed in residential care out of their council area has risen by 64 per cent, from 2,250 in 2012 to 3,680 in March 2017.

The figures also reveal that the majority (61 per cent) of children in residential care are now placed "out of area".

The data comes in spite of government efforts to reduce the use of unnecessary out-of-area placements, announced by former children's minister Edward Timpson in January 2014.

Changes introduced then included all out-of-area placements having to be approved by local authority directors of children's services.

Coffey has accused the government of breaking its promise to ensure children are not being "farmed out" to children's homes away from where they were brought up and live.

She is particularly concerned that such out-of-area placements leave children vulnerable to exploitation and more likely to go missing from care.

Other figures obtained by Coffey reveal that the number of incidents of children going missing from out-of-borough residential placements has more than doubled, from 4,380 in 2015 to 9,910 in 2017.

This is a faster rate of increase than those placed in children's homes within their own borough, which rose 68 per cent over the same period.

"The government promised to curb the growing practice of farming out children to homes that are sometimes 100 miles from where they live," a statement released by Coffey in response to the figures read.

"Shockingly, the rise has not stopped at all, but has got worse. Despite the pledge, record numbers of children are being sent away to places where they are more vulnerable to exploitation.

"These children are running away at a faster rate and are being targeted and preyed upon by paedophiles and criminals who know they are vulnerable.

"The farming out of children to areas where they have no friends or family circles or local social workers has created a perfect storm where it is increasingly difficult to protect children."

Speaking at a parliamentary debate that took place today on the issue of missing children from care, Coffey conceded that out-of-area placements "can be in the best interest of the child".

"But my concern is that children are being placed in children's homes out of their local area because there is no choice in provision," she added.

Children's minister Nadhim Zahawi also spoke during the debate and acknowledged that out-of-area placements can increase the likelihood of missing from care incidents but said sometimes such placements are necessary.

"I share the honourable member of Stockport's concerns about placing children far away from home," said Zahawi.

"However, we do recognise that for every specialist provision a child may need, sometimes they do need to be further away from home.

"In addition, sometimes circumstances make it the right decision for a local authority to identify a placement outside the local area, for example if the child is at risk of sexual exploitation trafficking or gang violence.

"I fully recognise that placing a child far away from home can break family ties and make it difficult for social workers and other services to provide the support a young person needs."

He added: "It is also unsettling for children and I think the honourable member is quite right, it does increase the risk of them going missing from care."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "Children in care are some of the most vulnerable people in society and it's essential that their best interests are at the centre of all decision making.

"Local authorities have a statutory duty to make sure that placements meet the needs of children in their care and this includes the location of the placement."

blog comments powered by Disqus