Care cri­sis as most chil­dren housed miles from home

Glossop Advertiser - - News - Neal Keel­ing

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

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