Care crisis as most children housed miles from home
THE government has broken a promise to reduce the huge number of vulnerable children being dumped in care miles away from where they were brought up, a Greater Manchester MP has said.
Ann Coffey claims a ‘sent away generation’ of youngsters are in danger of falling prey to paedophiles and drugs gangs - and are at greater risk of becoming homeless and committing crime.
The crisis was first highlighted by the Stockport MP six years ago. Months later, the government vowed to take action. In 2016, Ms Coffey revealed that a third of youngsters in care were living more than 20 miles away from where they were brought up. That figure is now nearly two thirds.
Scores of children from outside Greater Manchester are put in homes in boroughs such as Rochdale and Stockport, Ms Coffey said. But dozens from those towns are sent elsewhere.
She said children placed miles away from home are more likely to go missing - and that GMP estimates it costs the taxpayer up to £31m a year to find them. Now the crisis has worsened.
Department of Education (DfE) figures, obtained by Ms Coffey, reveal: The number of children placed out of borough rose by 64 per cent from 2,250 to 3,680 between 2012 and 2017. They now account for the majority of children in children’s homes - 61pc.
The incidence of children going missing from ‘out of borough’ place- ments increased by 110pc - from 4,380 incidents to 9,910 - between 2015 and 2017.
The increase for children in care in their boroughs went up by 68pc in the same period.
Ms Coffey, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, will use a Commons debate on Tuesday to raise the issue again.
There are strong links between children going missing and sexual exploitation, she said.
Figures for Ms Coffey’s own Stockport area reveal that 53pc of youngsters reported as missing from children’s homes in April were classed as at risk of sexual exploitation. Of those who went missing, 65pc weren’t originally from the area.
The uneven distribution of children’s homes is thought to have contributed to the problem. Some 54pc of homes are in just three regions. Nearly a quarter are in the north west.
Ms Coffey said the private sector is ‘catastrophically failing children’ and pushing up prices for councils.
Some homes charge up to £5,000 a week for a new child, according to Placements Northwest. Last year, Ms Coffey revealed there were 400 children placed in Greater Manchester children’s homes. Of those, half had been placed outside their own council area.
In January, she conducted a national survey of police forces about ‘county lines’ drugs operations. She found that some children placed outside their own boroughs were targeted by gangs because they were seen as particularly vulnerable.
Ms Coffey said: “The government promised to curb the growing practice of farming out children to homes that are sometimes 100 miles from where they live. 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.”
A DfE spokesman disputed the 64pc figure cited by Ms Coffey, claiming the number of children placed out of borough rose by 45pc between 2012 and 2017.
“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,” he added. “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. We are updating our Missing Children and Adults Strategy to improve the current response to missing people.”
Nearly two thirds of care youngsters are now living more than 20 miles from where they were brought up. Inset: MP Ann Coffey